Monthly Archives: July 2009

Our Quebec drain

We’ve been working for over a week on getting drains and piers installed around my house.

(here’s what was in my driveway waiting for me last night)

By we, I mean the great group of guys who have been at the house working in neck-deep mud and muck, shoveling way too much by hand.  The piers are installed and hopefully doing their thing.  We’re a little stuck on the drains though.  Eventually, we hope to have French drains installed around half the house.  The guys have it excavated and pipe installed everywhere it needs to go.

(It’s hard to see the drain part…it’s covered in fabric to keep dirt out.  They are giving me separate lines for my gutters which are seen here)

The problem is that we got another couple of inches of rain, so, once again, they cannot work and we have a huge, muddy mess.  So, while we’d like to have French drains, we currently have Quebec drains.  I don’t mean that as any slight to our friends in Quebec…all I mean is that we are like French drains in a lot of ways…we have most of the characteristics, but we are definitely not French and we’ll take offense at anyone who calls us French…drains I mean.

Anyhow, I can’t fault the installation company, but gee whiz what is with this weather?!  The moat is filling nicely and I absolutely may have to install a drawbridge soon.  Maybe August will be August-like…

A little corny

Wow! I have been out of it lately. I have had (and still have) a really ugly cold (ugly because it’s a summer cold…all summer colds are ugly) and very busy at work so I just get home and collapse. Anyhow, I had to go to Des Moines, IA last Sunday night for a Monday meeting. I had never been to Iowa so it was a fun opportunity to see a new place. I know they grow corn in Iowa, but I don’t think I really understood what that meant. As I flew from Detroit to Des Moines, we quickly flow over Chicago and onward until we were over what looked to be the most lush green land I’ve ever seen. The green was only broken by the straight roads which divided the fields into perfect little squares. Also spaced evenly were farmhouses which punctuated the fields in a repeating pattern. I suppose that most of the green I saw was corn…certainly food of some sort. It was really pleasant and peaceful to see all that food!

Anyhow, I left Charleston around 4:30 Sunday afternoon and got to Des Moines with enough time to walk around the city a little and enjoy a Shakespearean play in the park. Des Moines has a population of around 200,000 in the city and a metro population of a half million. Although I prefer sparse population, as cities go, Des Moines was a pretty nearly the perfect size. What I saw of the city seemed to be super clean and modern (but not too modern) and just overall pleasant.

(I saw these balloons around 7 in the morning.  The statue wa along the river)

After the meeting, I flew back through Atlanta…a place wholly unlike Des Moines. No offense to folks in Atlanta, but it’s just a bigger, more hectic place and the Atlanta airport is big and busy…plus I was pretty ready to get home from my whirlwind tour of the midwest. We left Atlanta and flew through the roughest turbulence I’ve ever flown through. I was pretty thankful Emily was not with me as she’d never get on a plane again. I was able to keep my tomato juice and peanuts down though and made it safely home at 11 pm Monday.

(The county courthouse and the state capitol…at opposite ends of the same street..both very cool!)

I’d like to go back to Des Moines sometime soon though. I am sure there is a lot more to see if I’d had more time!

Anyone ever been to Des Moines or Iowa in general? What all did I miss?

Home improvements or the Moat Around my Castle

Last week we had workers here to do all sorts of foundation and waterproofing work on my house.  They are certainly not done but they have given me one unexpected, but really cool feature…I now have a moat around my house.  Although we had a lot of rain earlier in the summer, we have been pretty dry lately.  We were dry until last night that is.  Some pretty good storms blew through and dumped a bunch of rain pretty quickly.  The drainage ditches the workers are building are basically solid clay still at this point and do not drain…at all.  So all around my house, I have a water filled moat!  I love home improvement!

All Jacked Up

Ok, so maybe you are bored with this whole theme of my house repairs.  But really, as expensive as it is, I feel like I need to say a lot more about it.  We got a tremendous amount of work done yesterday.  By “we” I mean the workers, though I was exhausted at the end of the day from “supervising” them.  They got the piers installed and raised the house to close the cracks.  It is also guaranteed not to move again.  I am pretty sure it is stable now.  As they were driving the piers into the ground, they quickly hit solid rock underneath.  You see, the piers are 2 inch (I guess) solid hardened steel bars.  They have a huge drill attachment for a backhoe they use to twist them down into the ground.  So, they started turning the screws and they stopped when they started to corkscrew the piers.  Holy cow!  They twisted huge steel rods!  Anyhow, they said when the piers start to corkscrew, they know they hit solid rock and they stop turning.

(a helical pier)

(driving a helical pier)


Once driven, they add additional hardware to the piers and use a pump and special jacks to apply 3000 psi to the piers.  That, of course, lifts the house.  Once lifted, they tighten the hardware and we’re done!It was very impressive and I’d say the workers earned every penny they made.

(The jacks to lift the house)

(Pumping the jacks to lift the house)

(Applying pressure)

While the piers were being installed, another group was around back digging a huge ditch to install water proofing and gravel to help it drain.  Before the drain, water seeped into the basement during rain storms.  That’s really not a pleasant thing so we decided to get it fixed.  The backhoe operator dug down to the footer which was 7 feet below grade.  Another poor fella named “Tiny” (I kid you not) had to crawl down in the ditch and make sure everything went smoothly.  So the ditch is 30-40 feet long as it crosses the back of the house and continues to the front of the house.  It’s a massive hole and has left a tremendous amount of dirt all over in my yard.  The really awesome thing about it is that we won’t have to mow until next spring!

(My Ditch…and Tiny)

At the end of the day as they were completing the ditch, the backhoe operator hit the water line going into my house.  In fact, he yanked it plum out of the wall of my house.  It was very impressive.  Luckily, we know a really excellent plumber so he had us wet again in an hour.

Things continue today so we’ll see what happens next.  Still, the guys from United Structural Systems seem to be doing a bang-up job!

Speaking of Dig…

(I am the luckiest guy alive!)

I really dig my wife.  Today is our 15 year anniversary.  I like to look back at the old pictures of our wedding day and remember what it was like to weigh 150 pounds (I was a skinny thing) and have hair, and look young.  Sometimes I like to look back at pictures and reminisce, but really, I prefer our life right now.  We’ve had our ups and downs, but we count many more ups in our favor.  We’re mature in our relationship and especially lately, we’ve grown closer than we ever have been before.  So today, on our 15th anniversary, I’d like to say I love my wife so very much and I would indeed marry her all over again!

The Big Dig, Part 1

I mentioned awhile back that we were having some foundation repair work done this summer.  The day has arrived!  A couple of folks showed up first thing this morning…well, first thing for a banker.  Anyhow, they are here and have made a huge mess of my yard!  I am so excited.  I figure they surely must work like I do on home improvements …once I become comitted to the job (i.e. make a huge mess), I see things through.  I figure digging gigantic holes under my house makes them committed.  There really isn’t too much to say yet so I will just share a few pictures and see what happens next!

My Wife’s cankle

I mentioned awhile back that we were supposed to have foundation work done. Originally, they were to begin the work on June 29. That got postponed until July 20th…yesterday (and was postponed again…more later). In preparation, we had to move the beehives that I have at the house as they were very near where the work needed to be done. Emily valiantly attempted to help me move the bees but took two stings to her ankle early on in the move. For several reason (including footwear…I need to wear shoes when I mess with my bees!) I took around 30 stings. I have been stung so many times over the years that those stings don’t really bother me (though I typically prefer to minimize my exposure…when I am using my brain). Emily, on the other hand, has been stung much less frequently. As much as stings don’t affect me, they do affect Emily. Her ankle swelled to double it’s original size and hurt/itched.

I hear lots of people say they are allergic to bees. A reaction similar to Emily’s is not really an allergic least not how most people intend it.  Most people will react like Emily did.  Her reaction was localized and not life threatening (though she may beg to differ).  The allergic reaction that is of concern is one that causes an anaphylactic response.  An anaphylactic reaction is a widespread and severe and may lead to death in a short time if untreated.  Very few people actually will show an anaphylactic reaction to bee stings.  Of course, I am not a doctor…I only played doctor as a teen so don’t take my word for these things.

So, while bee stings may be unpleasant, most times they are bearable.  She’s still suffering some, but fear not, she is not suffering in silence.  I can’t say as I blame her though.  She’s a tough one so it must really hurt.  I suppose she’ll pay me back for that someday.  Still, I appreciate her help and willingness to dig in!

The Happy Magical Washer

We recently had occasion to buy a new clothes washer.  We used to have one of those old fashioned top loading washers that used something like 70 gallons per wash.  Our clothes washer drains into a huge, old-fashioned laundry sink so we can see exactly how much water goes through it.  Anyhow, we went shopping at the typical big box stores and found a high efficiency, front-loading Amana washer for $489.  On average, this washer apparently saves ~10,500 gallons per year compared to a typical top loader.  Figuring our water bill alone (let alone sewer and electric), this new machine will pay for itself in 4 years.  Really, I suppose it would pay for the additional expense over a regular washer in much less than that.  Anyhow, we jumped at it and got free delivery to boot!

(I don’t know if you can get a sense of how steep this is…when we pull up it at an angle, it lifts one back tire off the ground of the car)

The happy delivery day was last Saturday so we woke early and built an elevated stand on which to set the washer.  We opted to save $150 for the matching stand that was offered.  It’s going to be in our ugly basement so we didn’t care if it matched.  Actually, the stand looks awesome anyhow.

Ok, so the happy day came and we prepared the space.  The delivery guys called and we warned them (as we did when we bought the washer) that we live on top of a seriously steep hill that kills big trucks.  “Yes, ok, we’ll consider that”, they said.  Of course, they sent a couple of fellas up in a huge delivery truck anyhow.  They couldn’t begin to get the truck up our driveway, but they did manage to get it up the road.  We hauled the washer to our house and got it hooked up.  I dropped them a tip and waved good-bye.  I secretly watched as they started to back the truck back down onto the main road (our road is a dead-end, one-lane road with no turn around for a big truck).  Sure enough, the steep road claimed their truck.  The driver got the back end stuck on the main road below.  He hit the gas and it dug in good.  He tried to rock it back and forth and sent up an awesome plume of tire smoke and dug a big hole in my road.

(That’ll leave a mark!)

The police came as traffic was snarled in both directions…for 20 minutes.  My neighbors were stuck on our road unable to get out as well.  It was so much fun.  Anyhow, the driver finally was able to burn enough off of his tires and my road to get a grip and the truck slammed down off of my road and was able to drive off to a special location where the policeman had a talk with the driver.

(It’s better than the movies!)

So, the new washer is awesome.  It uses a ton less water.  We can tell based on watching the laundry sink fill up (or now, not fill up) as it spins.  This new machine spins and whirs and makes all sorts of musical sounds (click here to hear the music it plays when the cycle is done).  It’s a happy, magical washing machine.  We all like to sit and watch it go through its cycles as it washes.  We have even watched an entire cycle more than once…a cycle is 54 minutes…pitiful.  Anyhow, if you buy a new washer, consider an entry level front loader.  They aren’t much more expensive than a top loader and are so cool!

It’s garlicky

I debated on facebook a bit earlier this week on how to spell garlicky…and I was informed of the correct spelling…so here I am to share it with you!  We planted garlic last fall (cause that’s when one plants garlic) and it has grown to maturity.  We planted 4 varieties.  I know we planted Metechi, Music, and Romanian Red.  The fourth variety is a mystery garlic which was presented to us as “wild garlic”.  I have no idea what it’s real name is, but it looks significantly different from the other types and produced nice sized, very pretty bulbs.  We’ll plant it again for sure assuming it stores and tastes good.

(Once you harvest garlic, you need to dry it out of the sun for a few weeks)

We’ve had a ton of rain in WV this spring and summer which has killed a large portion of the garden.  The garlic is about the only thing that thrived so I am really pleased we planted so much.  We’ll likely have to survive on it all winter since we won’t have many beans or peppers or salsa (a near staple at our house).  If anyone comes to visit, you had better “garlic up” before you come!

(These are the scapes from the “wild” garlic. They look very much like little heads of garlic as well. We’ll eat them sometime soon to find out!)

Ok, I’ll play sort of serious…we love garlic and there is nothing to beat fresh garlic.  I like it in just about everything and we use it about that often.  It’s great because it grows through the fall, winter and early spring and can be harvested in time to allow the gardener to plant cabbage or broccoli in its place (which is what we’ll do) for a later harvest.  If you have never tried growing garlic, you definitely should!

So, anyone ever seen this “wild garlic” or know anything about it?

Moving Bees

Next Monday, we are going to have a crew at our house doing pretty extensive foundation work.  Our home, like many in Charleston, is built on the side of a hill.  Eventually, gravity takes its toll and begins to slide those hillside houses down the hill.   So, in preparation for the work, I have to move 3 of my bee hives which are fairly close to where the work will be done.

Bees are highly visually oriented.  They note the location of their hive by the landmarks they identify as well as the very look of the entrance of the hive (no, believe me, I have asked my bees!)  Shortly after bees emerge, they do a few tasks but quickly begin to take orientation flights in front of the hive.  I can always tell when they start as there will be a big swarm of bees hovering in front of the entrance as if they are approaching the hive.  Each day, they do this for 15 or so minutes and then they are done for the day.

So, to move a hive is to totally mess up all of that training.  Most folks suggest that if you have to move bees, you move them several miles away so that the bees have nothing in the least bit familiar about which to orient.  Indeed, if you carry bees several miles away, they will reorient and find the new location of their hive when they take their first flight after the move.  Some people make the mistake of simply moving their bees a few feet to a few hundred feet and they find that the bees return to the original location (to which they are oriented) after their first flight out of the hive at its new location.  Of course, that presents a problem.  I don’t want to move my bees miles away for the 2-3 days while the workers do their thing on my foundation.  I also can’t just move the hive 100 feet to a safe location.

(If the video above doesn’t work on your machine, please try this one)

Luckily, I am the bee-whisperer.  I talked to my bees and they said, “well silly, just force us to reorient in our new location.”  I always move my bees at night (which is a dangerous proposition by itself).  The bees should all be in the hive at night.  That means there is more weight and more stinging insects.  It also turns out that bees know they aren’t supposed to be out at night so if I mess with them, they take offense.  In fact, generally the only things that disturb bees at night are bears.  They react to beekeepers in the dark as they would a bear…unpleasantly.  By moving them at night, however, I can be assured that all of the bees are in the hive and I won’t leave stragglers.  I simply move the bees to the new location and then stuff grass, straw, sticks, etc into their entrance.  When they come out the next day, the immediately know that something is different so they reorient to the new location.  Without the stuff jammed in their entrance, they apparently never notice the difference.  Anyhow, I have moved bees many time using this method and never had a problem with them returning to the old location.

Most things about bees are pretty straight forward if one takes time to talk with the bees (reading a few books doesn’t hurt either)…