New Tree Planted

I took the morning off today to plant my replacement tree.  It looks pretty good!


I added some sage bushes on either side that I thought looked nice in the nursery.  I have a few deer grass plants in back which I might add to fill in the gaps a little bit.

I’m a little concerned about how well it will grow with all the wood chips left in the dirt from the stump grinding.  I had a garden once that included a former tree stump, and the corn never grew well at the location where the stump had been.  Corn is an annual though so it may have a harder time of it.  Tree roots should just push the good chips out of the way once they take hold.

I’ll want to spread some uniformly colored mulch once I’m through planting so that everything looks more even.  For now though it’s coming along, and it should satisfy the city’s tree inspection.

You might notice that I also added a sign to the city’s signpost which wasn’t there three weeks ago.  I figured that since the parking in front of my house is constantly occupied by the neighbors on evenings and weekends, I would make an effort to disavow any future liability resulting from their choice of location.  Park anywhere you like, it’s a free country, but don’t come crying to me because of falling tree branches.  Nobody made you leave your car there.

Goodbye Tree

I was aroused this morning at about 4 am by the loud sound of splitting wood.  I knew right away what it was because nothing else sounds like that:  A tree had lost a limb.  After finding a shirt and some pants and plodding out the front door, I saw that one of the trees in front of my house had dropped a sizable branch onto the neighbor’s car.  Also three telecom lines and a PG&E electric service drop.


I called 911 and PG&E.  There was no fire but it seemed like a situation that was at least somewhat of an emergency on account of the power line.  What subsequently ensued was practically comedy.  SJFD arrived first but they didn’t have anything to really do on account of there not being a fire.  They boys made a good show of putting out orange cones and taking charge of the situation, which I certainly appreciate since I’m not exactly a take charge sort of person at four in the morning.  Also it’s good that they were there since who knows, if the power line had come loose then things could have gotten much more exciting in short order.  Which thankfully didn’t happen.  All that being said, you have to kind of laugh at the situation when the fire department drives up and it takes them five minutes to work out how to turn on the flashing lights on their truck.  They got it worked out in the end though.  Thanks guys!

The next to arrive on the scene was someone with the city.  If the fire department didn’t really have anything to do, then the city guy had even less.  I think the singular extent of his contribution was to tell me when the city tree contractor would arrive to take care of the downed limb.  The answer was thirty minutes.  My recollection is quite clear on this because I had the chance to ask him several times over a period of about an hour and a half, and the answer was unwaveringly that the tree guys would arrive in thirty minutes.

PG&E arrived shortly after the city.  Theiy didn’t do anything though, because the guy who happened to be on call was with the natural gas side of the business and didn’t have the equipment to work on power lines.  I guess they sent him just so that they could say, “yep, we’re here responding to emergencies quickly!”  It’s not his fault, I’m sure he just goes where the dispatcher tells him to go.

Just as the eastern sky was getting light the PG&E lineman finally got on site equipped with a predawn color-coordinated bucket truck.  For those of you who aren’t out west, the monopoly power company here paints their trucks cornflower blue.  He was efficient as all get out.  He disconnected the service drop, pulled the cable over the top of the downed limb and had it reconnected by sunrise.  Then he and his buddy took off.  While he was working the fire department had also departed, so the street was left to me, a few interested neighbors one of whom had a tree on top of his car, and the city guy reassuring us that the tree contractor would arrive in thirty minutes.


They did eventually arrive, although if I’d known it would take so long I would have gone and picked up coffee and donuts for everybody.

I’m not as irritated as it sounds about the tree crew, they probably got there as fast as they could and they did good work.  I just think it’s silly that the city guy had to keep saying thirty minutes.  I did get a chance to chat politics with the professionals while the time was passing.  San José used to have our own tree crews, who were actually on call and available for emergency work.  They even paid for the basic service out of tax revenue.  That all changed when former mayor Chuck Reed went on his privatization spree and tried to bust up all the unions.  He didn’t quite manage with the fire and police departments, but he did achieve annihilation of the city’s tree care capability.  Now homeowners are forced to use the city’s approved private vendor for emergency tree services, who charges suitably high monopoly vendor prices, and we can’t price shop in what would be a free market.  I know because I tried. The city doesn’t officially require that you use their vendor, but in practice because of the size of the contract with the city they are the only vendor around who is big enough to get a crew on site with two hours’ notice.  And they charge whatever they want.

This might all be a condemnation of privatization as delivering the worst of both worlds, and it is exactly that, but there could potentially be a silver lining if for example the big contractor were to cut costs so much that the crew they send out were to have no particular connection to the company itself.  And if that were to happen then maybe, hypothetically speaking, the crew might see how ridiculous the situation is and offer to do a good deal of the work off the books at half the company’s rate on a cash basis.  I mean, you know, that could theoretically happen.

Anyway at the end of the day I’m down to one healthy tree in front of my house.  I’m disappointed.  Not in the crew or the fire department or PG&E or the guy the city sent out.  I’m disappointed that I have only one tree.  I really did love my big, pretty trees and they made me feel happy to come home to my little house even if it isn’t in a very good neighborhood.  Today after everything was finished I went out for food and when I came back there was one solitary tree standing a lonesome vigil for me on the parking strip.  It seemed so sad.  It also made clear that my front yard looks more or less like crap.  When I put in the bark and native plants to be drought friendly and low maintenance it seemed like a good idea, but they’re slow growing.  It wasn’t so bad with a pair of trees to look at but now the empty space from the curb to the house seems awfully barren.  I need something there which will become waist high in about a season or perhaps come that way from the nursery.  Or maybe a little fence if that’s not too kitschy.  Anything to interrupt the flatness.


Happy Independance Day!

I had a nice 4-day weekend for the 4th of July holiday.  I had some family time and also worked on both the barn and my house.  I spread 6 yards of bark mulch around the chicken coop in my San Jose yard to make it look a bit nicer without a water-guzzling lawn.  I think it meets that objective pretty well.  The hens like to dig around in the bark so I’ll probably be raking it fairly frequently, but it looks a little more well kept than having them dig around in the dirt and weeds.


I also worked on the barn, adding an exterior electrical panel where I want to eventually put an AC compressor and perhaps an outdoor receptacle, and I also added more siding to the west wall.

The panel took a while to install.  Or to be more specific it took a while to install the interior blocking, the outside mounting block, integrate the flashing with the building wrap and fit the siding around it all.  Actually installing the panel itself only took 20 minutes once the other stuff was done.


The auxiliary panel is bigger than what you would usually use for an AC disconnect, but it only cost me $45 including the accessory ground bar kit and it allows more flexibility for me so I think it’s a good choice.

DIY Air Conditioner

No, this isn’t some Rube Goldberg contraption with a fan, a housecat and a bucket of ice; this is the real deal.  I found a Canadian company which makes DIY ductless mini-split AC units in 12,000 BTU/h and 18,000 BTU/h models.  They come pre-charged with refrigerant and there’s a high pressure mating connector so that you can attach the indoor and outdoor units yourself without needing to hire an expensive HVAC technician.  I ordered one of the larger units for my house, and they sent it via rail freight to California and then to my house with a private trucking company.  The boxes arrived okay with no damage.


I installed the indoor unit and poured a concrete slab along the side of the house last week, but I didn’t have time to do anything else until Monday evening when I came home to find a temperature of about 95 degrees in my house with high humidity due to an exceptionally warm weather pattern.  I was extremely motivated then to complete the installation!


Indoor unit


Outdoor unit

It still needs some trim and a more code-compliant electrical connection, but I managed to get it up and running to cool things down when i really needed it.

A Good Monday

I took today off of work to get some personal stuff done.  I met PG&E up at the barn project and talked to them about my electrical service.  The new guy thinks he can get the service installed without needing to add a pole.  That will save me some money which I’m quite pleased about, but I’ll have to add bracing to the service mast.  The service drop will be 135 feet long, which will put a lot of tension on the cable.

I installed a dishwasher today!  After having lived in this place for nearly eighteen months I finally got fed up with hand washing dishes, and I ordered a Maytag from Sears.  They called me this morning to let me know that it had arrived, and I was able to get home from the barn in time to pick it up and install it in my kitchen.


There’s nothing remarkable about this particular model, it’s a dishwasher that washes dishes.  I did have some trouble finding a unit which has a food grinder like they all used to have instead of a filter that you need to clean manually.  According to the sales guy ultra-quiet operation is a big selling point in dishwashers these days; most manufacturers have switched from grinders to filters in order to reduce noise.  I don’t really care if I can hear it running and with a grinder I never have to clean out the filter.  Ever.  🙂

I discovered in the process of installation that the receptacle under the kitchen sink isn’t wired for a dishwasher. Usually you would wire it so that one side of the outlet is operated by the disposal switch and the other side is always on for the dishwasher.  In my kitchen however they wired it with both sides switched.  For now I just unplugged the disposal and turned the switch on but I’ll want to fix it properly at a later date.

I Finally Got A Stove!

After living in my house for nearly a year, I finally got around to buying a stove!


I chose a white one because I’m sort of converging on a white theme for this kitchen.  The fridge is white and I am going to put in a white enameled sink.  I’m going for an “Iowa Farmhouse” aesthetic, to complement the chickens in the back yard.  Also the price was very attractive and this model got an excellent rating from Consumer Reports.

I guess it’s properly called a range.  Why do they call it that?  If you have an appliance with only the burners then it’s called a cooktop, and if you have just an oven then they call it an oven.  So why does the marketing literature always call stoves ranges?  I guess range is probably technically correct.  A stove would be more like something that you burn wood in.  Who has ever heard of a wood burning range?

I also ordered a vent hood.  The delivery guys arrived on Wednesday afternoon and dropped everything off, but they didn’t do the installation.  They were supposed to hook up the stove, or perhaps the range, but the gas compression fitting was an incorrect size and the guy couldn’t get it unscrewed to install the proper one.  It looked like it had been sealed with some sort of cement instead of pipe tape or dope, and it was completely immobile.  Maybe whoever originally put it on thought that would be better than doing it the correct way?  I would up having to replace the whole shutoff valve, which I did myself later in the evening.  Home Depot is apparently so confident that all modern ranges use 5/8″ compression fittings that they sell a valve which has a non-replacable fitting of that size cast into the valve body on the outlet side.


I also installed the child safety bracket for some reason.  I don’t have children, so it’s not like anyone is going to climb on the oven door and try to tip the appliance over.  But it came included for free so I figured I might as well use it.

Fun fact:  The hex head screws included with the anti-tip bracket are metric.  Thanks, Kenmore!

To be clear, I haven’t been eating at In-N-Out burger every day for a whole year or anything like that.  I have a nice induction hot plate which together with a pressure cooker can make all sorts of things.  As versatile as that setup was however, there was no way to properly bake or roast with it.  It will be nice having an oven again, I’ll have to make up a batch of ginger cookies this weekend to properly test it out!  🙂


Fixed Up The Yard

I spruced up the front yard at my house last week.  I think it’s looking pretty nice!


I brought in 6 yards of bark mulch to take the place of the long-dead lawn, which I never replanted on account of the drought.  I still need to do the front parking strip, which doesn’t appear in this photo, but it’s a vast improvement over the way it looked before.

I Started A Garden

I started a garden last weekend at my new place.  It’s not much to look at yet because the seeds I put in haven’t germinated, but I’m hoping they’ll do okay.  The soil seems to be of excellent quality.



I added a couple of paths so that I will be able to walk, but they weren’t in when I took this picture.

The corner doesn’t look like much, but it’s one of two spots where the weeds seemed to be really thriving so I’ll take that as a good sign.  I don’t get full sun on account of the big tree, but I should be able to grow most vegetables okay with maybe two-thirds of a full day.  Melons and pumpkins might not do well, but I’m going to try tomatoes and corn to see whether I can get a worthwhile yield out of them.  Beans, peas, and leafy greens should all do just fine.

It being a little early in the season still, I planted some quick-maturing lettuce, radishes, chard, beets and spinach to give me something to do until prime corn-and-tomato planting season gets here.  I took out a weedy little volunteer tree and add added some soil amendments, which was a chore.  I also dug quite a few broken bricks out of the dirt.  I think they must be left over from when the house was originally built, the seem like a good match for the bricks that my chimney is made out of.

IMG_20140308_144314_823 IMG_20140308_161034_823

The Rose Perseveres

My new house came with some rose bushes, which I have embarrassingly ignored for 5 months since I bought the place.  Before that they were ignored for at least another 5 months.  Despite the neglect, this one is certainly making the most of the recent rains and warm weather.

I had been considering replacing the roses with something else, but the lonesome blossom has kind of endeared this one to me.  Maybe I’ll take care of them after all.

The yellow flowers are some variety of sourgrass.  They’re generally regarded as a weed but in a big swathe like this I think they’re pretty in a wildflower sort of way.


Got Me A Door Handle

I finally got around to replacing the handleset on my front door.  The old one worked, but I wanted to install one of slightly better quality.  The old one was also pretty well worn.

Door Handle


I had some difficulty in getting the old handle set off of the door.  It had bonded to the paint so strongly that I thought someone had actually glued it onto the door.  Turns out that it was just really stuck, it came off okay once I got a bit of a lever arm onto it.

You can still see the outline of the old one.  I suppose I’ll add “paint the front door” to my list of things which need to get done.  🙂