Category Archives: Home Life

Replacing a Rotten Section of Deck

A few weeks ago we tore down our dilapidating mudroom and were left with a mud-room shaped section of rotten flooring in the deck. Plus that section of the deck was an inch higher than the rest, so in order to fix the flooring, the underlying joists had to be replaced in the proper position. After the usual advice from my expert friend Kurt, who’s always happy to appear as my Free Handyman I Take Advantage Of and Try to Help in Return Even Though I Still Generally Feel Guilty for Calling the Guy So Often for Assistance, I decided to attempt the repair solo.

After buying the pressure-treated two-by-eights for the joists and one-by-sixes for the floorboards and driving the lumber home in a rented Home Depot truck that smelled of urine, I stacked it all in the yard and tore up the bad existing boards. Underneath I found a sizable groundhog hole, now abandoned, which was probably the home of the groundhog that’s harried my pumpkin patch in previous years. I also found a couple of peanut butter jars, too new to predate the deck, that were likely dragged there by the groundhog so he could make sandwiches when he wasn’t eating pumpkin.

Also found were a number of cruddy old balls of various colors and sizes, broken glass, rusty bottle caps, and a small drinking glass. You can picture the previous owners having a wild drunken catch as they were building that section of the deck many years ago. Or maybe it was all the fun-loving groundhog.

The next step was cutting and laying the four-side border of the new section of deck. It had to be perfectly level with the surrounding good part of the deck, so the original plan was to build a nice level structure elsewhere in the yard, carry it over, and nail it into place. That way I wouldn’t have to level things up on the fly, but long two-by-sixes are so heavy, especially when you’ve nailed a bunch of them together, that I’d have needed a few additional people to help me move and attach the structure and so I decided to wing it and attach the boards one at a time, keeping everything in line with a level and crossed fingers.

Which worked eerily well. Next I cut the individual joists and nailed them in using a borrowed construction-size nail gun (I have an air compressor of my own but only guns for little trim nails) and proceeded to the floorboards.

I had to replace a few random boards around the deck due to cracks or warps, and I needed to remove some additional boards and reposition them so they were better staggered, for stability and appearance, when I added the new boards. I cut them each to size and nailed them down. There was only one that ended up being a quarter-inch too wide for its allotted place, so I took it downstairs and shaved an edge on my table saw. Sometimes the boards were so tightly fit that I needed to jump on them to cram them into place, but by and large it was all surprisingly easy. I finished it up and here it is:


The next step is to add a piece of trim to cover that spot beneath the door where the now-lower section of deck has left some of the wall exposed. Then I need to lightly sand the entire deck and paint it. I also need to install a storm door and figure out an awning solution, but after that it’s done.

P.S. I continue to see the occasional carpenter ants, left homeless after the mudroom’s destruction, scurrying about in the hope that some part of the deck isn’t solid new pressure-treated lumber. I taunt them.

Tagged , ,

How to Make a Dog Throw Up

BonesIn a split-second this morning, our dog Bones smelled our son’s antihistamine on the dining room table and thought, “Hm, grapey treat.” He managed to lift the tiny plastic cup off the table without a spill. I strolled out and there he was, having knocked the medicine over and begun to lick the strange, sugary liquid off the carpet. After some frantic no-no-no! style hullabaloo he backed away, looking throughly embarrassed, and our son started crying because he thought Bones was poisoned. My wife calmed him (our son) down and I called the emergency vet.

Bones had consumed maybe a third of the 1-tablespoon dose. This is children’s medicine that is sometimes given to dogs his size for allergy-control, but we had to play it safe. The vet recommended hydrogen peroxide, which surprised me. It’s apparently a common recommendation, one I didn’t know because we’ve never had a dog before. We were instructed to pour three tablespoons of hydrogen peroxide into his mouth and walk him briskly on a leash. After getting most of the hydrogen peroxide into his stomach, we jogged around the yard. He looked, well… like someone who’d just been force-fed a big mouthful of hydrogen peroxide. And in less than sixty seconds, the treatment worked its magic.

He vomited. And vomited. And vomited and vomited. A threw up the first half of breakfast, then the second half of breakfast, then a little more, and a little more, and a little more, and then he decided to poop, and then he threw up a little more. Ten minutes later, he was 100% emptied out and trotting around in very high spirits, though still with an expression like, “What was that all about?”

We’re waiting an hour before we give him a replacement breakfast.

Moral of the story: small cups of medicine are not to be left for even the briefest amount of time, and hydrogen peroxide is one heck of an emetic.

Tagged , , , ,

Death of a Mudroom

We had this mudroom off the back of our house that caused a lot of problems. The room was approximately 5×8 and was useful as a place to store garden supplies and the like, but as is often the case with such a room, it frequently became the depository of every damn thing we couldn’t find a spot for.

The righthand wall blocked the view of our yard from the kitchen, and because of the way it was positioned, it made our deck seem smaller than it is.

It also served as a buffer between the yard and the actual house, so the elements hit the mudroom instead of the backdoor, and we could leave our dirty shoes there instead of tracking mud or snow into the kitchen. But then the elements started to win. The roof grew patches of moss and began to leak; a gust of wind blew a window out of its frame, which window almost struck a visiting 6-year-old before it shattered on the floor; the outer door broke and could only be replaced with a costly custom door; and the whole structure had a growing wobble, slight but unnerving, whenever we walked outside.

Last and most irksome, carpenter ants had moved into the walls and were eating the structure from the inside out. When I pried off the drywall, I revealed not only the sawdusty frass of previous colonies but a pair of active egg mounds. The eggs are sticky white, like over-boiled rice, and if I remember my research correctly, they’ll linger there over the winter and hatch the following year. Since the usual ant poisons don’t affect the eggs, carpenter ants are hard to eradicate; even if you kill the current year’s colony, there’s always another nest waiting in the wings.

Not this time! As soon as I opened the drywall, the living ants panicked and began to carry the eggs to safer ground. Before they could properly mobilize, I scooped the eggs with a dust pan and tied them into a plastic bag. Next I poured boiling water on the rest of the ants and eggs that were hiding out of reach, and then, just as a few weary survivors were having an emergency meeting under the floor, I went forward with my plan to destroy their precious mudroom forever.

I called on a friend who’s good at this kind of thing to help me avoid killing myself or destroying the back of the house during demolition. I ordered a 12-yard dumpster and we tore it down piece by piece two Saturdays ago. The decrepit state of the mudroom made it harder to wreck, as it happened, because we had to be careful that portions wouldn’t collapse at a dangerous moment, and we often needed leverage using boards that we too rickety or rotten to provide it.

Along the way, we discovered that the mudroom was really the enclosure of an earlier shingled awning with wooden supports. The original support posts were mostly intact inside a shell of cheap outer wood, and I’m keeping them now until I figure out some way to repurpose them.

Another discovery was the quality of old pine. Our house was built in the late 40s, when pine was nicer and stronger than the cheap-o stuff you generally find at Home Depot. There were places where water and ants had disintegrated the newer wood but left the original pine — which wasn’t pressure-treated back then — completely intact. And the old 2x4s were actual 2x4s, and not the smaller nominal size of 1 1/2″ by 3 1/2″. It was manly wood, from a manlier era.

The entire mudroom was barely connected to the house, which meant there was minimal damage to the outer wall when we removed it. A lot of the cedar shakes were missing where the roof met the house, but we replaced those with new shakes and I painted them all the following day. The paint I used was matched to the sunbleached color that surrounded the former mudroom, but sadly, color-matching isn’t an exact science, even with those fancy computer matchers at paint stores. So now we have a slightly darker Ghost of the Mudroom on the back wall. It’s less glaring in person; my camera exaggerates the contrast (see the final photo below).

The old mudroom floor is still there at the footprint. I’ll need to tear that up and replace the boards so it matches the rest of the deck. I’m installing a new storm door, now that the kitchen door leads directly to the yard. I also need an electrician to rewire the backyard light, and I’m going to put up a metal awning so we’ll have some cover when it rains or snows.

It’s incredible how much the view and even the yard itself has opened up since the mudroom’s removal. I owe my friend Kurt a full day of tiring labor on one of his future projects, along with a replacement set of Sawzall blades that he ruined cutting through the tarry old roof shingles.

Epilogue: today I saw a single lonesome carpenter ant scurrying aimlessly around the deck. I allowed it a moment of solemn remembrance, then squished it with my fingers.

Tagged , ,

House Centipedes and Earwigs: Snack Time!

House CentipedeLots of people freak at the sight of a house centipede, an understandable reaction when they scurry about the home at night, quick and leggy, so perfectly embodying the creepy-crawliness of, say, an entryway to The Temple of Doom.

I’ve learned to love them. They’re harmless, they run in fear the moment you tickle their legs, and they eat pesty insects. Colloquially called “ghetto bugs”, they’re really quite adorable on close inspection. We had lots of baby centipedes running around a few weeks ago and truly, it was charming to see the little buggers scampering up and down the doorframes.

We’ve had some earwigs around this season, too, and while earwigs aren’t harmful to people, either (those pincers aren’t actually pincers, and they don’t go in your ears), I have a bias against earwigs because they devoured a bunch of my marigolds a year ago.

House Centipede Eating Earwig

House Centipede Eating Earwig

Last night I spotted a large house centipede on the baseboard near the downstairs bathroom. She* had a tasty dead earwig in her mouth. In my efforts to photograph her with her prize, she fled into the bathroom and I had to guide her back to the hall where I didn’t have to contend with the scale, the toilet, and the hard-to-reach corners.

I’m afraid I distressed her along the way, but once I left her alone and she realized that I wasn’t trying to steal her precious earwig, she joined me in the TV room, ran behind the couch, and–I can only assume–enjoyed her snack while watching a really terrific episode of Breaking Bad.

* I can’t say for certain it was female but am exercising gender fairness, as female centipedes have suffered far too long beneath the oppressive male-centipede hegemony.

Tagged , , ,

Wood Pellet Day

A grueling but enjoyable annual tradition: I carried two tons of wood pellets this morning. We bought a pellet stove for the library several years ago and run it all winter (plus part of fall and spring). The stove burns pellets that look like rabbit feed. We go through a couple of tons during the heating season, and you get a better deal if you order in early summer.

The pellet delivery satisfies me in a forward-thinking, squirrel-burying-nuts kind of way. Since we pay for the pellets now, that’s hundreds of dollars of heating bills that won’t be hitting us around Christmas. Receiving a full supply in warm weather also prevents my having to stock back up in frigid weather, a mistake I made in the first year when I under-ordered and had to carry the extra ton on a slushy cold January day.

Path of Pellets

Path of Pellets

Most people ordering pellets have a driveway. The deliveryman drives up and leaves the order wherever you like, maybe right in the back of your garage where the pellets can stay all winter as you burn them one bag at a time. We have neither a driveway nor a garage, so our delivery is left on the street in front of our house. Where I need them is the back corner of the basement. This takes some work.

The pellets arrive on two separate pallets. Each pallet holds fifty bags weighing 40 lbs each for a rand total of 4,000 lbs.

Our house is higher than the road, with two small hills that don’t look like much until you’re walking up and down them, fully loaded, 100 times.

It’d be easy for someone to steal a bunch of bags in the middle of the night, so I have to get them off the road pronto. And so I do, carrying one bag at time up the double-hill and down the length of the house, where I pile everything up near the rear basement window.

My regular exercise must be paying off because I was able to carry 2,000 lbs. without resting; I wasn’t able to do that two years ago. After the first ton was moved, I came inside, ate a piece of chicken, drank water and juice, watched an episode of Breaking Bad, and went back out to haul the second ton.

Bones, Side Window

Bones was fascinated. He watched me from the front window and ran to meet me at the back window forty times before he finally got tired. (When I carried the second batch, he wised up and watched from the front window only.)

Now that everything’s off the road, Phase 2 will be getting the pellets into the basement. What we do is place a plastic slide from my son’s old swingset so it runs from the ground-level window down to the basement floor. My wife and son slide the bags in–this way they don’t break or grown misshapen–while I receive them inside and pile them up into nice neat stacks. The finished piles are immensely pleasing.

It’s also a hell of a workout. My heart rate was over 150 throughout the two solid hours it took me to move it all. I determined my heart rate using an iPhone app, aptly named Instant Heart Rate, that really works even though it seems like it shouldn’t.


Tagged , , ,

The Eggplant of Salvation

Hey remember when I couldn’t fix the shower and wrote about it here and here? Summary of my frustration:

  1. The tub spout leaked
  2. I replaced the knobs and guts; the spout leak stopped
  3. But then the middle knob that sends the water to either the bathtub spout or the showerhead leaked
  4. I needed to replace the inner diverter, but no one sells the right-sized part anymore
  5. I cleaned the current part and did everything right and the knob itself stopped leaking but then…
  6. Whenever we ran water to the tub spout, water backed up in the pipes and also came out the shower head
  7. Gravity is supposed to prevent this; my enemy was physics
  8. I couldn’t understand why it was happening and gave up
  9. Lost hope, rending of garments

Regular readers will now remember the recent Eggplant Incident in which my darling wife put the troublesome vegetable into the garbage disposal, from whence it traveled and clogged in a pipe just below the earlier-described bathtub and filled said tub with hideous gray dishwasher/eggplant water. As I could not easily access the clog with traditional tools, I used Power Plumber, a can of compressed gas that you blast into the drain to jolt the clog. It worked beautifully.

Now yesterday: I had a handyman coming to do some electric work and was prepared to mention the shower-diverter conundrum. Before he arrived, I tested the shower again and lo and behold, the problem had completely remedied itself. How was this possible??

We owe it to the eggplant, it seems. My wife encouraged me to blog about this (while I was giving her a neck rub) in the hope of repairing her eggplanty reputation. I happily comply.

My theory. There must have been a partial blockage in the pipe below the tub/shower. This blockage prevented the drain water from flowing as intended, which resulted in a very slight backup, which resulted in the water rising up the pipe and leaking out the showerhead. Along came the eggplant to jam at the partial blockage. When I cleared the pipe entirely with Power Plumber, the drain water flowed at full capacity, the pipe stopped backing up, and the shower leak abated. So it seems I fixed the diverter correctly all those weeks ago and didn’t know it.

If not for the eggplant, we might have lost hundreds of dollars as the handyman attempted to solve the mystery and found himself similarly baffled. So hat’s off to the exquisite Mrs. Mahoney putting forbidden “fibrous material” down the garbage disposal. We have our second shower back.

Tagged , ,

Seasoning the Skillet

Today I’m re-seasoning our cast-iron skillet. It’s a Wagner Ware #8 and we use it all the time for vegetables, eggs, and burgers. The surface has lost a lot of its non-stickableness* and I mean to re-nonstickabilify* it in the oven.

Seasoning SkilletPeople used to do this with lard. I’m going with Crisco. The first step is to scour the skillet with hot soapy water, which you only ever do to a skillet if you’re planning to re-season. (If you scour it all the time, you’ll de-nonstickify* the surface.) Once the skillet is clean and dry, you rub it down with plenty of Crisco, place it on a cookie sheet, and put it into a 250-degree oven for a couple of hours.

If the skillet is really worn out, you may need to repeat the process. I’m going to do it three times in a row to ensure absolute un-stickabilitableness*.

Seasoned Skillet

Newly Seasoned

As I understand it, the heat opens the metal’s pores, allowing the oil to seep in, where it’ll be trapped once the skillet cools and the pores close back up. That creates a long-term seasoned surface.

For regular upkeep, the skillet should be gently cleaned after every use. Then you rub it down with olive or canola oil, place the skillet back onto the hot stove for a minute or two, and let it cool with that extra layer of protective oil so it’s good as new the next time you use it.

* Actual words, as of now.

Tagged , , , ,

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 104 other followers