Category Archives: Workin’ on the house

I’m not good.

Me and my bees: pt.1

Recently, Natalie and I noticed that there was a tiny breech in the eaves on our house where there appeared to be a few bees congregating.

We thought there must be a hive up inside the roof somewhere, but weren’t sure how big it was.  The bees also seemed to be rather docile, so I didn’t really give them another thought.

…until Friday.

I was putting out some trash and as I was going back inside the house, I felt a sharp pain in my left calf.  It caused me to stumble as I was going up the stairs and I tripped my way into the sun room and landed on all-fours.  My sandal had fallen off in the clumsy display and wasn’t in the room with me, so I reasoned that it must have fallen on the steps outside the screen door.

Being the coordinated individual that I am, I went to open the screen door, but kinda missed the  latch, so the door didn’t open.  This revelation didn’t reach my brain until my already flat nose was flat up against the glass and I could see my breath steaming up the window.

You may be asking, “what was going through your mind as this was happening?”

We don’t have to talk about that right now.

I managed to open the door, retrieved my sandal and then noticed a dull pain that quickly became a sharp pain in my left calf.

I remembered, as a kid, being stung and that experience seemed to closely resemble what I was currently feeling.

I went back inside the house and looked out the window to see that where there had once been a few bees that rarely moved, I now saw four or five buzzing around.

I recalled that the previous owners had left some hornet/wasp spray in the basement, so I went down to find it.

I’ve also heard that when you mess around with bees, you have to be ready to 1.) run yer butt off and 2.) have a secured place to hide for cover.

I donned my “run yer butt off” shoes and made sure the back door was unlocked.  It would not do to spray the bees, get them mad and chasing me and then find myself locked out of the house.  That would be Sucksville.

Once outside, I took a deep breath, pointed the bottle and let fly, expecting a spray of magic chemical death to spray out of the can.  Instead, a stream of white foam shot straight in the air.  I watched it go up and stepped aside as I watched it come down and land where I had been standing not 3 seconds prior.

“Cool!”  I said aloud.

I calculated that I could stand roughly 15 feet away from my target, shoot a stream of instant death on my tiny foes and head for the hills.

I took another deep breath, re-adjusted my aim per my previous experience, and thought to myself, “FIRE IN THE HOLE!”

To say that the clump of bees fell on the ground would be an understatement… more like they… exploded.

They landed on the ground, DOA.  A twinge of guilt struck my heart as I imagined what my Biologist friend, Erin, would think of my insecticidal activity.

Then I thought of what it would be like if a million mad bees came pouring out of that tiny crack… so I emptied the bottle into it.

Nothing happened.

“I guess that’s it,” I thought, as I went back inside.

Lenny the cat greeted me at the door with a look on his face that said, “do you have any idea what you just did?”

I patted his little head and said, “daddy’s a big strong conquerer, isn’t he?”

Lenny didn’t reply… he just kept looking at where I had just sprayed, whimpering.

As I went to throw away the empty can, I thought “I wonder if he knows something I don’t?”

Moments later, I glanced out the window to see 3 or 4 bees buzzing around the window.  I went to the window to take a look and saw a few more… well, hundreds more.

They were EVERYWHERE… and mad.

I made two phone calls:  one to Orkin and one to Natalie to tell her I did a dumb thing and to be careful when she comes home.

When she got back, it was like trying to time the search lights in a war zone.  She pulled into the unattached garage, lowered the big door and waited at the side door until we both felt the coast was clear.  I motioned for her to make a run for it and held the door open as she sprinted into the house and I shut the door behind her.

The bees calmed down after about 40 minutes but since the issue hasn’t yet been resolved, this story is incomplete.

To be continued…

Me and My Outlets

I saw this cartoon today and really felt this guy’s pain:

Working on Electrical

We recently swapped out all of the electrical outlets and switches in the house.  In the midst of doing that, the electricity in the bathroom stopped working.

I had McKeel come over with Kirby and they put their heads together to try to figure it all out.

Their digging brought up some pretty scary results:  the office and the hallway had a couple of outlets that were running on two circuits.  Essentially, they were hot with 220v.  Anything that we would have plugged into them would have been fried.   It also meant that in swapping those outlets out, we were messing around with a lot more power than we thought.

After a few feeble attempts, we all decided that it would be best if I just hired an electrician to look over the damage and try to assess the problem.

Kirby knew a guy and hooked me up with a really good group of electricians: Deiter’s & Helmer’s.   I wasn’t sure how long it would take or what kind of trouble we were in, but was pretty sure it was going to be expensive.

The guy came, assessed the situation, probed a few outlets, gave me a good tongue-lashing for trying to do things myself and then got to the bottom of the problem within about 10 minutes.  He traced the lines through the attic and down into the adjacent bedroom where the problem resided:  there was an outlet there that had been cross-wired and hadn’t had the tabs popped out to put it on separate circuits… at least, I think it was something like that.  The wiring had also been reversed in the attic and the hotwire had been switched so what we thought was white was actually black.

The bottom line:  he said that if the house burned down due to electrical fire and the insurance company investigated, they would have found that the wiring had not been done by a licensed, insured electrician and they would not reimburse me a dime.

At the end of the day, for $100 and a scolding, he straightened out my electrical, got the bathroom working and got us up to code.  He then probed and prodded around the rest of the house to make sure the readings everywhere else looked good.  It was a lot cheaper than I thought it would be and we ended up with some peace of mind knowing that the work was done right and we would be covered by insurance.

For some reason, I’m willing to hire out things like gas and water because of the potential dangers of working with those two utilities… but electrical, I feel like it’d be ok for me to do the work myself even though I really don’t know what I’m doing.  I figured if I matched up the wiring and put the same wires where I saw them on the old stuff, I’d be ok.  I didn’t know enough to check the tabs and trace the circuits first.

The insurance angle alone was enough to wise me up to the fact that this kind of work should be left to the professionals.

Me and My Door

For those of you who don’t know, we bought a house.

We’re really excited about it and are glad to be home-owners again. Granted, it’s a lot of work, but we are incredibly blessed with very good friends who are extremely loving and talented.

Here’s what I mean: We closed on the house on a Friday. The following Saturday, several friends came to help us get the house ready for work.

We decided to completely gut, redesign and have the kitchen rebuilt before we move in. So, on Saturday morning ten people showed up to help demo the kitchen (that’s “demolish” not “demonstrate”) and assist us with various surgeries that were required around the house: tearing up carpet, running grounded electrical, putting electric outlets into the sunroom, pick up fallen branches, dig up scrubby shrubs, edge, mow and basically turn the place inside out in a day.

For the kitchen, we ended up going with dark cherry cabinets with chrome hardware all around (lighting, faucet, sink, handles, etc). The counter-tops and flooring are a textured light-beige. The jewel of the kitchen will be the glass-tiled back-splash that reflects the under-cabinetry lighting.

The following week, my dear friend, McKeel, began work on rebuilding the kitchen and installing the new materials while a couple other dear friends, Matt and Ben, began tearing down doors and sanding all of the trim throughout the house to prepare everything for priming and painting.

Why, you may ask, are my friends doing all this work and I am doing nothing? If you’ve not read the stories about Me and My Yard, then you don’t know how completely inept I am when it comes to things that aren’t computer or graphics-related. I have the propensity to mess up the simplest of tasks.

When we began planning the work for this house, Natalie said to me, “ok, here’s how this is going to work: we will hire our friends, who are GOOD at doing these things, to do the work. While they are working, you will sit on the porch with your laptop and make money so we can pay them.”

That’s not to say my wife doesn’t support me or believe in my ability to succeed… that is a testimony to the fact that we have both seen me in action. When I work on the house, it qualifies as entertainment for the neighborhood.

That’s also not to say that watching everyone work on my house before me doesn’t conjure up the emotional need in me as a male to swing a hammer and build something tangible… so I found a project for myself…

I’m told that when you buy a house, you should change the locks on the doors. How hard could that possibly be? I mean, really… what could possibly go wrong?

Another dear friend, Adam, had been so excited to work with me on a project on my new house that we were both giddy at the opportunity to work on something together. One evening, we grabbed his tools (for I have none of my own) and ran over to the house to start putting in new locks.

The house was built in 1955 and the front door, we suspect, is original to the house. it’s a very cool design and we really like how the windows are laid out… it just needs some updated hardware to bring it up-to-date. Unfortunately, hardware standards change over time and the holes that were bored into the door for the original handles were only about 1.5 inches, vs today’s standard of 2 1/8 inches. That means you have to use a hole saw to bore a bigger hole. I had to ask McKeel because I didn’t know.

“How do I make the hole bigger for the new knob?”

“Use a hole saw.”

“They make those?”

“Yeah. I have one you can borrow, if you want.”

“Is it hard to use?”

“It’s a drill bit.”


He was very kind. I am very ignorant.

To drill a bigger hole into a door, you have to cut a wooden shim to fill the existing hole so you can start a pilot hole. Here’s the part we missed: you have to measure correctly where the pilot hole starts so you get the bigger hole in the right place.

At one point in the operation, Adam looked at me with big eyes and a big goofy grin on his face and said, “I think we just ruined your door… yup. It’s ruined.”

I now have two 2 1/8″ holes cut right next to each other in the form of what most people would call an oval. I call it a peep-hole for spotting Hobbits and small children.

I have never seen a door with a hole cut in it that was too wide for the doorknob.

Neither had McKeel.

He was very kind: “It’s not that bad. I can probably come over sometime and fill it with wood putty or cut a patch and match it to the grain. No one will ever see it.” Note that he did not say, “no one will ever know.” I expect he’ll be telling people about this for years to come.

Stupid oval hole.


Me and My Yard – part 4

Before reading on, be sure to read part 3.

Natalie and I put down the garden hose in the back yard, according to her drawings and began digging up the grass. My neighbor had a compost bin and graciously agreed to allow us to put the pulled-up grass in the bin.

Digging up grass with shovels is HARD WORK. I was sad to see some of the best parts of my lawn being dug up, but I knew in the end that it would be a really great end-result.

Friends and family members helped along the way until finally after about a week of labor, we had all of the grass pulled up that we needed to. The next steps were putting down the ground cover and hauling in the stone for the 3 patches of walkway areas that we had planned to create.

We found that stone is a magical thing. No matter how big the areas were that we needed to lay down stone, it always seemed to require exactly 10 bags of stone. 10 bags of stone is also a magical thing. 11 bags of stone will make a Saturn economy car’s rear bumper drag on the ground, but with 10, you’re golden.

About two weeks into the project, we had the stone in place, the borders dug and the restraining walls installed.

Having little experience in these kinds of projects, I wasn’t sure whether the next step would be to plant all of the bushes and flowers next or to put down the mulch. I decided to let fate decide. I’d schedule the tree service to come make mulch out of the tree in the front yard and send Natalie out with some money to the nursery to buy her plants at the same time. Whichever worked out first, we’d go with that.

Natalie bought all kinds of plants and flowers, two rose bushes and my personal favorite: a Japanese Maple tree.

Frequently, as Natalie and I would go on walks through our neighborhood, we always stopped and admired the homes that had Japanese Maple trees. They’re just classy lookin’ plants, in my opinion. We bought a beautiful red Japanese Maple and planted it.

Fortunately, we had a close friend who was a grower for local nurseries and flower shops. He knows quite a bit about planting and advised us to build a little stone wall around the base of the tree so that the mulch didn’t touch it. If the mulch touched the tree, it could disease it… a blunder that I was destined to make if I’d not had some sound advice from a professional.

As aforementioned, I scheduled the tree service as well. I called several services in the area and priced them all against one another until I found a reputable service that I felt would charge me a fair price. I scheduled an appointment and had the tree service guys come and cut down the ash tree in the front yard. That was an exciting day!

That tree had caused us nothing but trouble over the few years that we’d had the house. In the spring, it dropped piles of tiny yellow flowers about the size of Grape Nuts that totally covered the lawn and driveway. It was so thick that the front lawn would be be recovering from it throughout the entire summer.

Being a soft-wood tree, during the summer, it dropped hundreds of 3-4″ twigs every week.

Naturally, in the fall, we’d get leaves… but ash tree leaves aren’t the kind you can just rake. Ash tree leaves are shaped like footballs and are about the size of a quarter; small enough to slip through the rungs on a rake, but big enough to get trapped on your shoes when they’re wet as you walk in the house and get spread all over the place. Ash leaves also clog up your drainpipes quicker than most leaves.

Ever blow into a cup with flour or powdered sugar in it? No? Oh. A very similar phenomenon happens when you try to use a blower on ash tree leaves: you end up wearing most of it.

That said, I was sick of the tree and ready to see it come down.

The morning the tree service came was to me like the day Mr. Wilson saw the moving truck in Dennis the Meanace’ driveway. I stood outside, wringing my hands with a devilish smile on my face, anxiously awaiting good riddance to bad rubbish.

The tree service came on a weekday and I made arrangements to go into work late that day to oversee progress of the tree-cutting to make sure they picked the right tree, and to give them specific instructions to mulch it and leave the mulch on my driveway when they were done so we could immediately begin hauling the mulch to the back yard. Once they had their instructions and the cutting on the right tree began, I left for work, anxiously anticipating the big pile of mulch in the driveway so I could finish our project and enjoy our new back yard.
That evening, I raced home from work, ready to jump into my work-clothes and begin hauling wheel-barrows of mulch to the back. What I found on my driveway was not what I had expected.

Apparently, when I said, “mulch the tree and leave it on my driveway,” they heard, “leave the wood in his driveway.”

I had about 2 tons of firewood, cut into 1-2 foot lengths. The only mulch that was there was from the tree stump that they’d ground up.

Immediately, I got them on the phone and explained the situation. The response I got was, “Ohhhhh! We were wondering why you wanted so much firewood! Your house doesn’t even look like it has a fireplace!”

I must say, however, they were quick to remedy the situation. The next evening, we had a full truck-load of mulch where the firewood had been. They brought two trucks to the house, loaded one empty one with firewood and unloaded one full of mulch. Once they knew what we were planning to do with the mulch, they were even kind enough to give us the right kind. Apparently pine mulch is very acidic and will kill off plants if you use it in a garden. They swept out all the pine mulch from their truck and loaded it with… some other kind.

…and so we had our mulch.

This concludes part 4.

Me and My Yard – part 3

When we first bought the house, both the front and the back yard were pretty bland; like a blank canvas.

Within the first year of owning the house, Natalie decided to take advantage of the blank canvas and spruce up the landscaping.

We first attended to the front yard: we dug up the ground in front of the house, put down the black ground-covering, shaped the terrain with a garden-hose, put in the border, planted a few bushes and flowers and mulched everything into place.

Having had very little experience in landscaping, we were both very proud of what we’d done. I even went so far as to go out and purchase some yard lights, bury the cable stake the lights and set it up on a timer.

We were sooo excited. Every evening when we’d come back, we’d see the house from afar, all lit up in the front garden. It was very inviting and made the house look beautiful.

A couple of years later, Natalie was drawing on some graph paper. I walked over and looked over her shoulder to see several organic looking shapes that she was sketching out with what looked like several bushes within the organic shapes. She was planning.

Now, when we first got married, I would flip out everytime she began doing that because I’d get all concerned about how much these little projects were going to end up costing. Over time, I came to understand that it was ok for my wife to dream and that when she was drawing out things on paper, it didn’t necessarily mean that she was really ready to do something about it.

As I looked at her drawing, I really began liking what I was seeing. She’d carved out a quarter of the back yard into a garden-spa, complete with stone walkways and a special little place for me to put my grill.

Over the next couple of days, her drawings became more and more sophisticated and she began adding color to them. She was dreaming big.

One Saturday, as she was in the kitchen sketching, I came downstairs dressed in grubbies and said, “honey, go get on some work-clothes. Let’s go to the store and pick up some yard equipment and materials and start building that backyard you’ve been planning.”

If you’ve never seen a woman’s eyes sparkle, tell her that her dreams are about to come true.

My plan was to spend some of the money that we’d been saving up to have a tree service come cut down the awful ash tree in our front yard and turn it into mulch for our backyard project. That would be like killing two birds with one stone. I’d be getting rid of a tree that was tearing up my front yard and dropping seeds/leaves all over the place while getting the mulch we needed for the back yard.

Natalie and I went to the store and purchased several rolls of ground cover, several rolls of border, picked the stone we would purchase, picked the plants that we’d put in when the project was into its final stages and planned out a schedule as to when each portion of the project would be completed so that we could schedule the tree service to come mulch the tree in the front yard.

We were off to a great start!

This concludes part 3.