We just got back from two weeks in Great Britain. We took a Trafalgar tour that took us from London, through southern England, northern Wales, the Lake District, and finally to Edinburgh, Scotland. We saw some amazing sights and some truly beautiful scenery. The weather was perfect and the people we met on tour were great. It was an awesome trip. Here is a short video showing some of the highlights. I also have a number of pictures in my photo album.
There’s only one magic ticket swirling around in the booth — and it’s worth 1,000 tickets — but Josie made it look easy, snatching it within seconds. She was so thrilled, and just as surprised as the rest of us!
Earlier this year, I started building a cabinet in my basement on the wall opposite my new bar. As usual, I used Sketchup to draw up my plans, and I neglected to post these at the outset of the project. Sketchup is a powerful tool, and fairly easy to learn. Using it to create models of things you want to build is a great way to save time and money. If you take care to make precise measurements when you draw your model, you can use it to figure out the cost of materials, and later as a blueprint to verify your measurements are accurate. I am currently working on some new plans for a major project in 2013 — stay tuned for more on that.
I did post a couple of photos back in June when the cabinet was nearing completion, but I had to take a break for a few months to work on other things. Its main purpose was to replace the hideous drywall box the previous owners had built to hide the water meter on the wall. It now serves as some extra storage space, and a decorative place for Sir-Drinks-A-Lot to stand. I am happy to announce that the cabinet is now complete!
Are you tired of spending hours manually entering book titles into your own personal database? (Well, okay, if you’re not a home-schooler, maybe you’re not, but work with me here.) If you’re like us, you spend a lot of time going to the library to pick out book for your kids, and, let’s say for the purposes of this discussion, you also spend a lot of time keeping track of the books they read in some sort of database. What if you could just scan the books, like they do in the library, and have them magically appear in your own database? Well now you can!
For about $20, and the time it takes you to download a spreadsheet, you can automate this entire process and free up your time for things you really want to do, like reading my blog! First, crank up that Prime membership and order this barcode scanner from Amazon. There are scanners that sell for hundreds of dollars, but you don’t necessarily need to spend that much. This scanner works very well, although you might find it a bit challenging to configure. You will get hours of entertainment trying to read the user’s manual (written in chinglish), but all you really need to change is the default interface to USB, and enable ISBN scanning.
Next, you will need to create a free account at ISBNdb.com, which is a database of virtually every book in the universe. Once you have your account set up, you will need to generate an access key. Once you have a key, write it down. You will need it in the next step.
Finally, download my spreadsheet containing a macro that I wrote that will take an ISBN as input (either from the barcode scanner or manually entered) and then automatically query the ISBNdb.com site and automatically fill in the book title and author. Enter your access key in the spreadsheet and start scanning! It couldn’t be easier!
Now if we could just get the library to deliver.
In late April, we had a pretty impressive hailstorm, which led to us getting a new roof and new gutters. The timing was somewhat fortunate, however, since I had already started putting together a system for catching rainwater that we could use on our garden. I found a 300-gallon plastic tote on Craigslist for $100, and had the gutter company reroute the gutters on the back of the house and combined three downspouts into one that drains into the tank. I really had no idea how long it would take to fill up, and I was astonished at our first hard rain when it took less than an hour for it to fill to overflowing. Now I wish I had bought more than one.
The next phase was intended to avoid the hassle of dragging a hose out to the garden to water it everyday. So instead I buried a “perma-hose” consisting of one hundred feet of 3/4″ PVC pipe from the house to the garden, with splitters on both ends. At the house, short pieces of hose connect both the rain tank and the faucet, so we can easily switch between them depending on whether or not the rain tank is empty. At the other end, another splitter means we can leave the soaker hose in the garden attached all the time, and still have an open faucet for watering our other plants. Because our yard slopes away from the house, the garden is about six feet below the level of the tank, so we have a pretty good head of pressure — not bad for only being gravity-fed.
Stay tuned for the final phase, which is to hook up a 55-gallon rain barrel on the upper patio that we can use to water our herb garden and some other potted plants.
I’ve mentioned before how much we like all of the wildlife we see on our property, but yesterday it was the source of some dismay as we watched this Cooper’s hawk try to make our chickens into a breakfast buffet. It is times like these that I am glad I used hardware cloth on the coop. As they say, chicken wire keeps chickens in, but doesn’t keep predators out.
Two years ago, I took Noah to his first baseball game, and now he is playing coach-pitch himself. Here’s a quick video of a hit he got in his last game of the season. Dixie took some good photos too. We’re very proud of our little slugger.
In the middle of our other spring project, the timing was right to get our new pets, but that started the six-week clock for building them a place to live. Because, trust me, you do not want these critters living in your basement permanently. Noah helped me start the framing, and after a full weekend of work, we had the beginnings of a coop. After that, the weather stopped cooperating for a while, so it took a couple of weeks to get back to it. In the meantime, I stumbled across a ridge vent at Lowe’s on clearance for $2 that seems to work pretty good on top. I guess we’ll have to wait for summer to find out if it does a good job of keeping things cool inside.
My design was roughly based on the Catawba Coops design, with some modifications to increase the interior space. It’s also a foot wider at the base. Beware of these design changes, however! You will wind up with a portable coop that isn’t really all that portable — I think ours weighs about 150 pounds. I also got inspiration from the many designs available on Backyard Chickens. Ours combines features from several different ones.
After another full weekend, we were almost done with construction. One exterior wall and the roof got a coat of primer and two coats of exterior paint, while all of the other exposed wood got a couple of thin coats of Thompson’s Water Seal. I also sealed the edges of all the boards with silicone caulk. We ended up taking the fancy waterer back and just ordering some poultry nipples on Amazon and making our own from a couple of plastic juice bottles.
Now for some lessons learned. If you go with a design that involves a ramp, make sure it is no steeper than 45 degrees, and you will want rungs attached to the ramp every three inches, or your pullets will find it difficult to climb. My initial plan involved a removable wall made from a single sheet of half-inch plywood. After the first rain, however, this board warped pretty badly, so I ended up scrapping that and replacing it with hinged panels (patent pending) and some foam weatherstripping to keep the rain out. These have performed flawlessly so far. The most expensive material by far is the wire mesh (which is actually half-inch hardware cloth), but as we have learned from reading up on the subject, chicken wire only keeps chickens in, it doesn’t keep predators out. Another indispensable design item is the “poop tray” which is essentially a litter box filled with Sweet PDZ that completely eliminates the odor and makes collecting the droppings for your compost quick and painless.
We are lucky to have the OK Hatchery nearby for our chicks, feed, and other supplies, and as they have told us, “you chicken people are taking over the world!” Now we are just looking forward to gathering eggs! Stay tuned for pictures of our first omelets!
This has been a busy spring. Thanks to warmer than average temperatures in February, we got a jump on our normal outdoor activities and started a couple of projects. The first was a little landscaping of the front yard, which involved giving the existing flower beds a facelift with the addition of a retaining wall. Now that the project is done, I wanted to offer a bit of advice to anyone planning something like this. If you choose to do it yourself, and not hire it done, the single most difficult task is properly estimating the amount of materials you will need. My initial estimates of the amount of bricks and top soil that I would need were off by a factor of two. So while the $60 delivery fee that Lowe’s charges is completely reasonable, to have tons of material delivered right to your driveway, it can quickly bust your budget when multiple deliveries are necessary (three in my case). As a reference, our retaining wall had about 65 linear feet, which is easy enough to compute, but it’s almost impossible to know in advance (without a landscaper’s years of experience) how many courses of bricks you will need to match the undulating topography of your yard and end up with something approaching a level wall. For ours, it took 220 bricks. That also equated to 180 40-pound bags of topsoil to fill in the space behind it.