Category Archives: home improvements

The Rain Falls

It’s been a long, dry winter. The alstromeria have given up and decided it’s spring again, sprouting up fresh leaves in just the past couple of days. And now, we have finally received some rain!

I spent some time last week getting a second cistern, Seena, hooked up. I got up on the roof and cleared out the gutter and blew the leaves and redwood cones out of the way. This morning, we got enough rain to put the new system to the test and it was found wanting.

  • The pipe that takes water from our rain barrels down to the cisterns has a very reduced flow. Only a trickle is feeding into Joseph-Ann.
  • The fitting between the pipe and the hose at the rain barrel is a bit leaky.
  • The overflow hoses from the rain barrels have come off; ideally, they’d feed back into the downspout but at a minimum they should route overflow off the deck.
  • The patch I applied to Joseph-Ann at the first hole I made to connect her up to Seena is not 100%. It has a very tiny drip. I’ve applied more caulking there, but it’s a worry.
  • The pipe connecting Joseph-Ann to Seena seems to have a drip right at the fitting onto Joseph-Ann. I’ve tightened all those bits, but that’s very serious. If I can’t stop that drip, then the new capacity means nothing as it’ll all leak away by the end of spring.

So, I’ve got a bunch of plumbing to do, and of course it’s raining while I’ve got to do it. On the plus side, the rain is supposed to last for a few days, so if I get these problems sorted out there’s still a chance we can save some rain.

Spring Planting

It’s that time of year. Time to plant those bare root fruit trees, get those spring bulbs into the ground. You can tell that it’s that time of year, because it’s criminally cold out. 

Me, in most of the clothes I own

And under this, I'm wearing long underwear.

This is what’s necessary to go out into the front yard. Long sleeves, thermal vest, a hat. I gathered all the potting soil I own, my shovels, my bucket that contains my trowels, pruning shears and gloves, and headed out front.

We’ve got two kinds of bulbs. One are the big, double-blooming tulips, the other are the bulbs from the little tiny blue tulips we planted last year. Last year was my first year planting bulbs, and I didn’t realize it, but bulbs sprout other tiny little bulbs in the course of their bulb lives. By the time I dug them up some time in May or June, we had about twice as many as we had originally planted, and a lot of them were teeny little green-onion looking things.

Here are the bulbs we've kept in a bucket since last year

The hairy parts are the roots, and some have already started to sprout.

When the landscapers were creating the flagstone walkway, they asked us what we were going to do with an old rowboat we got from the Pirate’s mother. I said we were going to throw it out, but the horrified look he gave me let me know that if we didn’t do something with it, he would take it off our hands. He finally persuaded me to plant flowers in it.

It’s a tiny little rowboat, built by the Pirate’s uncle to paddle around the canals of Venice, California. It was only ever meant to carry one person, and was small enough for a single man to carry on his back the block or two from his house to the canals, paddle through the canals toward Ballona Creek, carry from the canal to the creek, and then paddle out into Marina del Rey. He called the boat “Luff,” and now, over 40 years later, it’s sitting in our side yard, filled with potting soil, compost, loose dirt and flower bulbs.

Luff on the banks of Bear Creek

Luff, filled with tulip bulbs, permanently beached on the banks of Bear Creek

One last thing. You may think to yourself: That’s a lovely sentiment, but how are you going to keep that watered? Aren’t the San Lorenzo valley communities constantly in the middle of some kind of water crisis? Well, that’s where another reminder of the Pirate’s past comes in.

1100-gallon cistern used to capture rainwater

This is Cistern Joseph Ann, and she will never whack your knuckles with a ruler.

Our 1,100-gallon cistern captures rainwater, which comes from the roof and flows into two 75-gallon rain barrels that then feed into Cistern Joseph Ann, which gives us a total capacity of 1,250 gallons. It takes about 3-4 days of steady rain to fill the entire 1,250-gallon system, which then lasts us about two and a half months of garden watering. Now that the landscaping is done, we’re going to be putting in a vegetable patch on one side of the walkway – a kitchen garden. But first, we’re thinking that we might add another 1,100-gallon cistern, nearly doubling our storage capacity. Maybe it can be my turn to immortalize someone important to me, and we can name it after my aunt: Cistern Rosie.

It's an arch in the stupa style, but when I was choosing among various design drawings, I judged by holding them up under my nose to see which was the most badass.

The creator of our awesome deck moustache

It started with the idea that we were going to sell our house. We put together a formidable list of things we had to do in order to get the house sold – things like fixing the tiling by the fireplace, putting cabinet doors in the kitchen where we took out the microwave, and especially clearing the brush coming up the driveway. We had a jungle of blackberries that obscured the view of the creek and made getting around the side of the house impossible, and the trees were overgrown and threatening to fall over.

We had a guy come in and clear the brush. He did a spectacular job, and although we thought he was done, he didn’t. He decided that we needed a nice path leading from the stairs that came off the deck around to the front of the house. I had thought the same thing, but our ideas were a little different. I thought I’d put a nice border of river rock and pour some gravel. He thought he would put in 2-foot high walls, clad them in river rock, and then lay flagstone in the path. He won.

We have a nice, clear view, we have a lovely path leading from the back to the front of the house…and now I wanted an archway that would frame the view from the deck! This is Big Rob, and although the arch isn’t quite finished, you can see how lovely it’s going to be, framing our view of the creek. When the constellation Sam Elliott comes out, I want this to be his moustache, framed against the night sky. It’ll be spectacular.