Archive for the ‘Renovation projects’ Category

This post is long overdue.  I started a draft many weeks ago titled “Countdown to Kentucky,” but gave up on finishing it when I had to throw my countdown calendar out the window and resign myself to being here in suburbia much longer than I’d planned, when it became apparent the final projects were progressing more s-l-o-w-l-y than originally allowed for.  As usual, I underestimated the time and energy needed for several of the most complex, labor-intensive portions.  How does anyone know how long a certain job will take from start to finish?  All we can do is throw a dart on the wall and aim for it, which is what I did.  So I aimed too low.

I’m still counting down, but the target is softer now, made squishy with humility.  First it shifted four weeks to the right of my first departure date, and now another week or two is inevitable, if I want to get everything done.  And I do.  Though I would dearly love to be at the Farm already instead of here.

Truth is, aiming at leaving early (my original date was May 16th) has helped me accomplish an enormous amount of work in a ridiculously short period of time, much more than if I’d had a more “realistic” departure timeline.  I call this working better under pressure.  Scare yourself into thinking you only have a week to build a spaceship, and you will probably get at least the launch pad poured by Friday, all by yourself, which would be a monumental achievement by any measure.  This pretty well describes what I’ve been up to since March 26th, after my household goods were all packed in the trailer and taken away, leaving me free to concentrate on the landscaping projects.

My “Daily Notes and To-Do Lists” notebook charts the course of these final efforts, and it is truly amazing to look back through the days/weeks/months and see what I’ve gotten done.  It makes the list of work remaining look really, really small, which is such a good thing.

The moving trailer was picked up on Monday, March 26th; on March 28th two pallets of block and a yard of gravel for the last terrace wall were delivered, and I spent the day moving more than a half-ton of concrete by hand from the driveway to the edge of the backyard.  The Final Landscaping Projects phase had begun in earnest.

I’ve kept a rigorous schedule since then, fueled by my passion to get everything done and focused on the mid-May departure date.  My day – every day of the week – begins at 5 am with coffee-making and a shower, then out the door walking the dogs by 6:30, then back home to breakfast for the three of us.  I’m lacing on workboots and grabbing my gloves by 8 am, just as though I were working on my old landscape crew.  I knock off around 6:30 pm to take the dogs for their second walk of the day, then it’s shower and eat something and check email and update status on Facebook and finally drag myself to bed.  Blog posts take too long for me to write at this pace.  A simple sentence or two and a progress photo on my facebook page has been about all I can manage.  But it has paid off:  I am down to the last of it now, and the things completed outnumber the things left to do by a long shot.

I’m still not done yet, though.  As far along on the list of things as I am, I’m still here; the dogs and I are still here in San Diego, walking the chaparral canyons for exercise instead of hiking up the farm road or running through the lush pastures of the farm; making improvements to this little suburban home instead of setting up our livestock operation in Kentucky.  I dare not even plan the final trip, having already forfeited a non-refundable ticket for what I thought would be Bear’s return flight after helping me drive out there and unload, purchased when the best guess I could come up with was it would all be done by mid-May.

Ah, well.  This is life, this is but a small glitch in the Big Project, this is nothing, really, in the Big Scheme of Things.

In truth, it is a test of my strength, and fortitude, and determination.  I planned to do these renovation projects on the house and yard before I left and it is important to me to finish them and leave this little place in good condition when I go.  So I am in limbo here; working joyfully on hugely satisfying projects I’ve had to postpone for years and finally have the time to do, but aching to be gone, to be planted on the Farm, rising every morning with an even longer list of projects to throw myself into.

This strange and frustrating moment where I am stuck between my two lives will end soon.  I’ll survive project limbo, and one fine day I’ll pack the dogs up into the little Toyota pickup with the last of my earthly possessions in a Uhaul trailer behind, and drive east.  Probably through tears, a little sad to leave it all behind.

So don’t let the lack of blog posts make you think I’ve given up on the Big Project:  it’s just a trying time, and every minute’s precious, and I’m keeping an abnormal work schedule to get through to the end of it all here so I can finally make the move.

Back to work I go…


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The arrival of March is a welcome transition for me:  my renovation labors at the condo are officially done.

Although there is much work left there to do, I told Bear I could only work through February, since my household goods packup is scheduled for the third week in March and I have many more boxes to pack, many more cupboards to empty, plus the garage and the two attics as well.  As with everything I’ve turned my hand to these days, the process is taking much longer than I ever would have imagined, and I cannot afford to run myself short now that the moving truck is actually scheduled.  And, I think five months of labor at a project I didn’t need or ask for is quite enough.

Luckily, we’ve been able to enlist the help of our retired neighbor, Les, who enjoys having a painting project away from the house to do and can use some extra cash, so the work will go on.  Though it isn’t finished by a long shot, I’m sorry to say, and Bear will need to start investing weekend time or it’ll be summer before the place is rentable.

I worked up a project list last night of what still needs to be done, and it’s a pretty long list.  The kitchen painting, cupboard repair and upgrades haven’t even been started, the decks are still filthy and full of items destined for the landfill; the laundry room still needs cleaned out and painted, and there’s still a lot of trim work to do.  All the interior doors need sanded and painted and rehung.  Ceiling fans need to be purchased and installed.  The downstairs half-bath needs painted.  Window treatments need to be decided on and installation arranged.  And that’s just the big stuff – there’s a hundred little things too.  I could have worked another two months over there but I have other stuff to do now.

This past week I really put a press on and got all the downstairs baseboards installed and painted, and a goodly amount of the downstairs trim sanded and painted as well.  We had pulled the old baseboards off before painting the walls, as they were terribly beat up and really needed to be replaced.  I taught myself how to install baseboards last Spring on the hallways here at our own house, and was pleased to find the skills had not perished.  With the aid of Les’ trusty miter saw, it only took me two days to cut, nail up, and paint both livingroom, dining room, and one wall in the kitchen.

I think they came out real nice.

The difficult part was all the work on my knees, and the getting up and down over and over again to make adjustment cuts.  (Rule #1 cutting baseboard:  cut less off than you measure for and make kerf-wide cuts until the joint is perfect.  You can always shave a little more off but you can’t put wood back on.)  You see those fifty-dollar knee pads?  I had to buy those last year after my baseboard install project caused my knees to have sharp, shooting pains any time I knelt down.  With the knee pads that pain isn’t a problem, but the old hips and lower back complained mightily, as did my wrists and hands.  I  am glad to be done.

Now I must shift gears and finish the packing up of all the stuff that will go with me to Kentucky, in order to empty out the house and yard and simplify upkeep for the Bachelor Bear, who will stay on for a time at his job here in San Diego.  Moving truck arrives out front on Wednesday the 21st; they will be back to pick it up and take it to the storage lot the following Monday.  Five days to get it loaded – sounds like plenty of time, and it will be, if I have everything boxed and staged and ready to go. 

Ready, set, pack!

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It sounds daft, I know, to wish a winter would go by more slowly.  Most folks wish for the exact opposite, fervently hoping February and March will pick up speed and rip by like a sheet of plywood caught in a gale-force wind, bringing warm planting weather behind it.  Hunkered down waiting for spring, the cold dark months usually crawl by with excruciating slowness.  Not this year, not for me.  This winter is the flying sheet of plywood, and I’d give anything to find the kill switch on the wind machine.

Much has been done, but much remains.  Since the rummage sale, I’ve made two trips to Jackson, MS to attend Grazier’s courses given by the Stockman GrassFarmer staff, stopped in Dallas for a weekend to visit my brother and his family, participated in an Appleseed rifle shoot, and made enormous progress on the condo renovation project.  I’ve continued to pack, finishing several rooms and have at long last scheduled my household goods move, putting that target on the calendar, finally.  The point of no return is now behind me, and as the gale continues to howl around me I’m struggling to stay focused and not fumble.

Good shooters learn a lot of techniques that have a great deal of applicability to everyday life.  One of them is how to make a quick, effective magazine change.  Many timed courses of fire require a magazine change, and it’s a good skill to have.  That rifle’s not going to do even the best shooter any good if she’s spent her bullets and can’t get a full mag back in before the charging bear is upon her.  Any exigent scenario would apply, not saying I’m a bear-killer or anything.  But in the heat of a moment as critical as reloading to shoot the charging bear closing in from 30 feet away, the very simple process of dropping an empty magazine, picking up a full one, inserting it into the rifle and charging the chamber for a shot, will become enormously complex, and easily gooned up with unintended fumble factor.  That’s why a mag change is considered an essential element of marksmanship skill, and is part of every test.

The phrase they teach to help us learn it is, “slow is smooth, smooth is fast.”

Think about it.  The main reason for fumbling is hurrying.  And who wouldn’t be hurrying to shove in fresh rounds to kill a charging bear?  But panicked hurrying is the enemy of calm, dexterous movement, and you need dexterity to effect a rapid mag change.  Slowing down, although counterintuitive when you are counting teeth in the angry bear’s mouth, will get that magazine in faster, because it eliminates the inevitable fumble factor.  Hard to do in the face of danger, so we memorize the mantra, and practice, practice, practice.

I am fighting the fumble factor in my life right now.  Finishing my projects here in California and getting myself moved to the Farm before summer, is my mag change.  Bullet on target will be me and the dogs in the little Toyota truck, pulling into the driveway of the farmhouse.   The complexity of the tasks here, the enormity of work remaining to be done, is the charging bear.  There are days when I look around in complete despair, thinking how impossible a task I have in front of me – so much stuff to pack, so much work to be done, and that bear is RIGHT THERE in front of me!

Those thoughts don’t help, they only make me lose focus and motivation and I find myself circling around not really getting anything accomplished, and feeling sorry for myself to boot.  I even start thinking I will NEVER get to the farm, that I’m going to be stuck here in suburbia forever!  Of course that’s just nonsense, but it has the same effect on my ability to get things done in a day, as hurrying and fumbling to change out my rifle’s magazine.

I can’t let the fear and panic I feel prevent me from getting the fresh mag in, and getting the shot off.  I refuse to let that happen.  So I will say, and learn, and practice:  slow is smooth, smooth is fast.

And I will shoot that charging bear before she gets to me.

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Perhaps I should have advertised it as an estate sale.  It wasn’t properly a yard sale, as the condo has no yard or driveway; nor was it a garage sale, as the parking garage is underground and not a place to hold a sale accessible to pedestrians.  It was Bear’s idea, a couple of months ago, to sell the leftover items of value right there inside the condo, instead of hauling them back to the house and laying them out on the driveway for a yard sale.  I wasn’t sure if I was really up for pulling a sale together, but I finally decided to go ahead with it and picked this weekend’s Saturday as the date.  Wondering how to list it, I called it a rummage sale, not realizing that term is normally used for junk sales organized by churches or other non-profits.  

We advertised in the local paper and on Craigslist and other online yardsale boards.  A goodly number of people stopped by, to my surprise.  Quite a lot of stuff headed out the front door at the fire-sale prices I posted, too.  We met a number of locals and neighbors, out walking on a Saturday morning who stopped by to see our sale, which was a nice bonus – I’m a huge believer in getting to know your neighbors.  The dear little old lady across the street came back three times for more goodies.  And told me I should have called it an estate sale, since so much of what was laid out for display was much nicer than rummage sale stuff.

None of the barware or stemware or dishes sold, nor did any of the furniture.  Probably because rummage sale goers aren’t looking for that sort of thing.  We may keep some of the old crystal, if I can find the storage space.   It’s an old set of fine, thin pieces of all shapes and sizes, originally twelve of each, etched with a delicate bamboo leaf design.  Very asian or oriental; I wish I could find the right buyer who would appreciate its fragile beauty.  I’d rather keep it for posterity than donate it, if a buyer can’t be found.  And Bear will have room for the art deco curio cabinet, as well as the oak sofa table, once I pack up all my stuff for the Kentucky move.  We just needed to whittle the pile of stuff down, and we did.

Washing everything up for display took two days, but the place looked very nice, like a little antique store, when I opened the door for business at 9 am Saturday morning.  I woke at 4 and arrived at 6 to put price tags on everything, and though it was a scramble to get it all done in time, it worked out fine.  I had customers waiting to come in at 8:45.  Bear showed up with coffee and extra newspaper for wrapping things at 9:30 and was a big help plugging things in for folks and taking the dog for a walk every couple of hours.  Plenty of customers went away with bargains, I made enough money to paint the downstairs, and have a lot less stuff to box up to donate or store.  I’d say it was a successful endeavor. 

A lot of work, and I’m glad it’s done.

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Aced it!

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Although installing new bathroom sink and tub fixtures does not exactly qualify me as a bonafide plumber, it has certainly made me appreciate the skill and patience required to do even this mundane plumbing task.  That beautiful sparkling sink faucet and drain took me the better part of a day with my shoulders wedged into the cupboard below and my head and arms contorted for what seemed like hours, undoing old corroded connections and assembling new ones.

I’ve never installed a sink faucet before; this was my first.  Always left “that stuff” to Bear, the handyman extraordinaire.  But he’s not available for this condo renovation project so I figured I could learn how to do it myself.  And I’m pleased to say it turned out very well.

The tub fixtures, however, are another story.  (Notice the use of the present tense and lack of a photo of the finished product.)  I knew they would be, but I entered the den of snakes anyway, and have some bites to prove it.  I bravely bought the set to match the sink faucet, and discovered upon trying to install it that they aren’t all universal mounts.  That is, the new faucet handle wouldn’t just fit right onto the existing valve.  It was pretty obvious when I got all the parts laid out and took the backing plate off.  What really had me scratching my head though, was the valve body included in the box – I thought, surely I don’t have to replace this whole thing, do I? 

So I called a plumber.  The ad in the Yellow Pages said “Free Estimates” so I thought, what the heck, let’s find out how much it will take to get it done right.  Plus, I wanted to know how much it would cost to have the tub drain replaced, as I had heard that is a difficult job and well worth hiring a plumber for.

A mountain of a man with “Joey” embroidered on his extra-large blue shirt arrived in about 45 minutes and I briefed him on my dilemma.  Really nice guy.  He complimented me on the sink faucet installation, and then gave me a huge education on “real” plumbing.  Basically, Joey said, we can do anything you want.  But replacing that Moen faucet with a Delta faucet would mean tearing out some stuff, which could be done, but it’d be pricey.  Pricey like, $900+.  He suggested I go to a local supplier (great tip) and purchase a Moen “trim kit,” taking the cartridge with me to make sure it fit.  He even told me how to take the cartridge out.  Then he quoted me $225 per tub for him to install the trim kit, which includes shower head, tub spigot, and faucet assembly.  $375 if I didn’t buy it myself.

I’m pretty sure he knew he was giving me all the information I needed to finish the job myself.  It was a friendly 15-minute conversation and yes, I asked a bunch of questions but he offered up a lot of detail I didn’t pump him for.  I thanked him for his time and said we would think about it and give a call back on Monday if we decided to have him do it.  On the way home I stopped by Ferguson Supply as he’d suggested and picked up the trim kit to install the next day.

Well, the removal and replacement of the cartridge wasn’t as straightforward as Joey had made it sound.  Long story short, the new one didn’t go in right and the danged faucet wouldn’t completely shut off after I got everything assembled.  Then when I went to pull the cartridge back out, it wouldn’t budge.  Crap, I thought.  That’s not right, it should slide right out.  But it only came out halfway, and I didn’t know if I just needed to use a little more muscle or if tugging harder would really mess things up.  I was beginning to think I might have to pay the guy that $225 just to get me out of my fix.

But first I called Bear.  He eventually came over and, as I hoped, tugged a little harder (with 200 pounds behind it,) and the cartridge popped right out.  Sure enough, it was damaged – the rubber seal at the back was torn and half missing.  We decided I should have greased it before inserting it; a minor detail Joey didn’t share.  I was just relieved it came out without destroying anything internal and I hadn’t messed things up too much.  I picked up a replacement cartridge last night and today I’m ready to try it again.

I will admit, it would have been much easier to just pay the quoted price and have it done without the headache.  I thought I really screwed things up there for a while, which was not a good feeling.  Of course I wouldn’t have learned anything about replacing shower fixtures, but I would have skipped a lot of anxiety and hassle.  Would it have been worth two-and-a-quarter?  I thought that sounded a little pricey, but the shower faucet doesn’t work yet and I won’t rest easy until it does.  We’ll see if I pass the test today.

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Renovation dog

In case I haven’t mentioned it yet, the obstacle that looms largest in my Path to Farm Freedom is the cleaning out and renovation of a two-bedroom, three-story condominium that now belongs to Bear.  Its owner, a long-time friend of his, died of a stroke this past Spring and left it to him in her will.  You would think that would be a very positive thing, to inherit a property that can be rented out to generate cash flow, and generally speaking that is true.  All you have to do is clean it out, fix it up, and find good tenants.  Simple, right?

Alas, these things never are.

First of all, the place was stuffed to the rafters with too much furniture, junk and trash, and was incredibly filthy.  A small dog and a large cat kept indoors ruined every inch of carpeting upstairs and did serious damage to the walls.  Windows left open to the elements for years (you can do that in San Diego) resulted in damaged windowsills and left mold and mildew everywhere.  Cigarette smoke stained the ceilings.  No serious cleaning had been done in more than a decade.  Boxes and bags of miscellaneous stuff were stacked everywhere, and kitchen cabinets were ruined by spilled contents.  Junk everywhere, intermixed with items of value, had to be sorted through and disposed of. 

Secondly, without disparaging anyone or going into too much detail, this is a solo effort; a workforce of one.  As my grandmother would have said, “Being handy never gets you anything but a lot of hard work.”  I have experienced the truth of her wry little observation many times in my life, and this instance is no different.  Because I am She Who Makes Order out of Chaos, and Bear is inept at the most basic household duties and is, I am speaking kindly here, motivationally challenged.  But this condo needs to be rented out (not a good time to sell anything, do I even need to mention that) and I won’t leave him hanging with a stone like this tied to his neck.  He could never afford to hire someone to do what I am doing.

So I am working like a dog – a renovation dog, since I really want to get the hell out of suburbia and get to my farm, and I can’t go until this is done.  I started the clean-out process in October, as soon as it was legally available, working four hours at a time on weekends – the longest I could stand to be in that hell-hole.  Bag after bag of trash carried down two flights of stairs and across the parking garage to the dumpster didn’t even seem to make a dent.  The place stunk, the work was depressing, and I could barely see my progress.  But November allowed me more time, and I doggedly persisted with my four-hour work stints, until the upstairs bedrooms were stripped to just their furniture.  Fifty-seven large bags of crap drug to the dumpster.  God forgive me for all the glass not recycled, the stuff just needed to go.

It took more than a little elbow grease to clean up and restore a maple bedroom set and the large oak entertainment center before I could post them for sale on Craigslist, but it paid off and they both sold.  Several other items are still advertised, waiting for buyers.  Lots of stuff donated to GoodWill and Father Joe’s Villages, but lots of stuff still remains.  Pulling everything out of the upstairs bedrooms was a huge step, as it allowed me to start the painting and repairing process.  I had hoped to have the upstairs done by the end of December and ready for carpet installation, but I missed that mark.  Still painting bathrooms and replacing fixtures, and the stairwell hallway walls will need painted after that, then I can move downstairs. 

I don’t think I work as fast as I used to.  But two rooms and a hallway painted from top to bottom, including closets and door jambs, various wall repairs and a rebuilt windowsill, is a good start.  I’m working 8 hours a day now at it (it’s a 30-minute drive to the condo) and I hope to pick up speed as I get more efficient.  And I will need to; the winter is getting short and I want to be in Kentucky in time to put in a garden. 

This damned condo renovation project is the figurative grenade rolled under my door that threatens to blow up all my plans for finishing up here in San Diego and getting myself out to the Farm.  I should be out back in my own little suburban yard finishing terrace walls and stairs, resetting flagstone paths out front, and renovating the landscaping so it can be maintained by a gardening service in my absence.  I need to clean out the garage, pack 7 tons of household goods, and get it moved to storage.  There is a lot that will need to be done this winter, to earn my liberty, my ticket to freedom.

Wish me luck, cheer me on, pray for strength and patience for me.  I will need a lot of all those things to get this done.

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