Morning Run

Crazy week here at the house, with construction out front as the county scrambles to build sidewalks before school starts, and our own driveway paving job starting shortly as well. Should be nice when everything is all finished and re-landscaped, although who knows how long that will take.

I woke up to a more humid morning than I had hoped for, but it was nicer out than Tuesday, and I was able to get out for my regular run. I went 8.6 miles, which is a little bit farther than I usually run on weekdays. My legs were pretty fresh since I didn’t run on Tuesday. I ran at a relaxed pace, and it felt pretty good. I’ve had a slightly irritated nerve in the ball of my right foot since Monday or so, and I was a little bit concerned that it might affect my running, but it did not bother me at all. I’m not sure how the nerve got tweaked. My only guess is maybe it happened while climbing on Friday or Monday. I’ve had the same issue with the left foot at times, and it has always just kind of gone away on its own eventually. The only real issue I had today was a touch of queasiness that hit at about mile 7.5. I don’t know what brought it on. It passed after I stopped and walked for a couple of minutes, and I felt fine for the final mile of the run. I do have to say that the humidity is starting to get a little old, but I say that every summer around this time.

Big Dig, brewing update, etc

Today was the Big Dig at our house, where we had our old, leaky water line replaced with a brand, shiny new one. The new line is polyethylene. It has the advantage of being lots cheaper than copper, and it’s a single, continuous run of approximately 250′ from the house to the meter. We got a new shutoff valve as part of the deal, replacing our old gate valve that I never completely trusted. And of course, as with everything in this house, there’s a catch that I didn’t realize until a few minutes ago. Our electrical service was grounded to the old copper water service, so we’ve effectively just cut off our house ground. Lovely, huh? Looks like I’m going to be driving a ground rod or two in the near future. Got to do it soon, before the ground freezes. Sigh..

Tomorrow I’m off to the homebrew supply place to pick up ingredients for the beer we’re brewing this weekend. I did a little web shopping there last night, and it looks like I’m going to need to make a couple of substitutions, in particular a different kind of yeast. I think the beer will still turn out fine, and of course I’ll document the final recipe we follow here.

Leaf removal began in earnest today, much later than most years because the leaves stayed on the trees so late into November. As with past years, I’ll be mulching a bunch with the chipper shredder, and frantically trying to get the rest out for yard waste pickup before the county stops the service for the winter.

I also ordered a new, kinda pricey hard top cover for our pool table today. The hope is that it’ll protect the table as it gets used for laundry sorting, gift wrapping, crafts, etc. And at some point in the future, when we have massive, wild parties in the basement, we can use it as a buffet table. Hope it works as advertised. I did get a pretty good price on it.


Here we are in lovely Ocean City, MD for Thanksgiving.  You know you’re getting older when it becomes more appealing to go to O.C. this time of year than in the summer.  It’s nice and laid-back here, although not surprisingly, a lot of the seasonal places are closed.  Can’t wait to see what Avon, N.C. is like in March.

Finished winterizing the pool the other day, just before we left for the beach.  As I had hoped, I was able to nurse the air compressor through it and get the lines blown out.  The compressor seems to be fine as long as I manually shut it off at around 100-110psi of tank pressure.  For some reason it doesn’t properly shut off on its own any more.  It just keeps going until the safety valve pops.  I thought replacing the pressure switch would fix it, but no luck there.  So I’m not sure what the problem is.

When we get back from our beach getaway, I’ll need to get busy clearing leaves and winterizing the tractor.  I’ll be happy when all the fall outdoor chores are done with.

Time to brew!

It’s been a long time since we’ve brewed a beer. Going by my financial software (which is going to be indispensable when I write my memoirs), the last time I bought homebrew ingredients was June 21, 2000, and according to Oracle Calendar, we brewed an Amber Ale on the following Saturday, the 24th. That’s practically a lifetime ago. If I recall, we picked an Amber Ale in honor of Alaskan Amber, which we had consumed large quantities of during our recent trip to Alaska. By 2000, I had brewed several batches of beer and was just starting to perfect my routine. Now I’m going to have to see how much of that I can remember. I also need to dig through my brewing stuff to see if I need any new equipment, supplies etc. I know I need a new bucket or carboy for primary fermentation, plus some plastic siphon tubing and possibly bottle caps. We’ll see what else, I guess.

Here’s the recipe we’ve chosen. It’s very seasonably apropos. Cathy sent it to me in November 2000, and it’s sat in my inbox ever since.

Anne’s Choice Christmas Ale

Contributed By: Mare
Ingredients for 5 gallons:

  • 3 1/3 pounds Munton and Fison Stout Kit
  • 3 1/3 pounds Munton and Fison amber malt extract
  • 3 pounds Munton and Fison light/amber dry malt extract
  • 1/2 ounce Hallertauer hops (55 minutes)
  • 3/4 pound honey (simmer 45 minutes)
  • 5 three-inch cinnamon sticks (simmer 45 minutes)
  • 2 teaspoons allspice (simmer 45 minutes)
  • 1 teaspoon cloves
  • 6 ounces ginger root
  • 6 rinds from medium-sized oranges (simmer 45 minutes)
  • 1/2 ounce Hallertauer hops (five minutes)
  • Wyeast No. 1007 German ale liquid yeast
  • 7 ounces corn sugar to prime

Original specific gravity: 1.069
Final specific gravity: 1.030
Primary fermentation: 14 days at 61 degrees F (16 degrees C) in glass
Age when judged (since bottling): six months

Brewer’s specifics: Simmer spices and honey for 45 minutes. Boil malt and hops 50 minutes. Add finishing hops and boil five minutes. Cool, strain, and pitch yeast. (Note: Honey/spice mix is added to the wort just before cooling. They are not boiled together.)

I think I’ll throw a page up on my wiki to document my brewing procedure, as I recall it in bits and pieces.

On a totally unrelated note, I can’t believe that it’s mid November and most of the leaves are still up on the trees. By this time last year, the yard was knee-deep in them. So far this year, I haven’t even touched a rake yet. I’m sure the extremely warm October had something to do with it, or maybe it just hasn’t been windy enough yet, but whatever, it’s really strange.

Not a bad year for the pool

We had a pretty good 2007 swimming season.  We opened up on Memorial Day weekend and were swimming soon thereafter.  And we set a new record for latest day in the pool — October 9.  As a matter of fact, the pool got pretty regular use in late September and the first week of October because of unseasonably warm weather.  We finally shut things down on October 13, so we had a swimming season of a little over 4 months.  Contrast that with 2006, when we didn’t open until a week into June, and closed in mid September.

The never-ending pool repair project drags on, although significant progress was made in 2007.  The coping stones are now mortared down and grouted, and the entire deck has been caulked with Sika self-leveling sealant.  I also resurfaced an area of sunken concrete by the house.  Still left to do: re-grout between the coping stones and the tile, although I’m debating how I want to handle this.  It might make sense to grind the joint square, which would necessitate draining the pool (because of the mess).  If I decide to do that, I’ll probably put this off until a later year, so I can re-tile the deep end and give the pool a fresh coat of paint as well.  I know it’s not happening in 2008.

One thing that didn’t happen much in 2007 was mowing.  NWS claims this was the “worst drought year since 1999,” although it seems to me that 2002 was worse than either this year or 1999.   The past two days, we’ve finally gotten some relief, so I imagine I’ll be cutting the grass one last time after things dry out.  Last mowing of the season is typically around the first week of November.  Then it’s on to leaf removal.. fun fun.

End-of-season outdoor work drones on

I’m still having no end of fun working on the usual mid-November chores of leaf removal, and winterization of the pool and lawn equipment. Saturday, I finished up with the pool, following my own instructions, and it went smoothly. I did forget to backwash the filter before shutting it down, but it wasn’t too dirty to begin with, so I don’t think it’ll be a huge problem. The bad news is, my air compressor decided to go on the fritz — appears to be a problem with the pressure switch. So, add one more thing to the list of stuff to fix..

For leaf removal, I’m essentially doing the same thing as last year, although I hope to finish up before Christmas Eve this time around 🙂 I’ve got the basic drill down:

  1. Rake all the grassy areas into 5 or 6 giant piles.
  2. Get up on stepladder, remove leaves from roof valleys and gutters.
  3. Use gas blower to blow leaves in paved areas (deck, pool, driveway) into 2 or 3 giant piles.
  4. Use gas vac/mulcher to suck leaves out of corners and other hard-to-reach areas.
  5. Starting with the area outside the master bedroom and working towards the side street/mulch pile, mulch up all the leaves with the chipper shredder.
  6. Every Sunday or Monday, stuff as many non-mulched leaves into trash cans as possible and put out for yard waste pickup. This reduces the amount of leaves that need to be mulched. Mulching is cool and all, but it’s laborious and time-consuming.

The main problem with this method is that the chipper/shredder bag doesn’t hold a whole lot of leaves. To reduce trips to the mulch pile, I like to use trash cans and a wheelbarrow as temporary containment devices for the shredded leaves (one trash can will hold two bags full of mulched leaves, providing they are packed down). However, it’s still a big pain to be constantly removing the bag, emptying it, reattaching it, etc. over and over again. It’s kind of hard on my back, too. I’ll be really happy if I can eventually figure out a way to cut the bag out of the equation.

Leaf Blower/Vacs: Echo vs. Toro

Here we have it: a head-to-head comparison between the Toro Super Blower/Vac and the Echo ES-210 Shred ‘n Vac. I’ve used the Toro for 3 or 4 years now, and recently bought the Echo. First things first: I’ve always liked the Toro. But, it’s electric, and the cord has always driven me nuts. One of the things I use it for is clearing around my swimming pool. And, corded tools and swimming pools just don’t get along well. Half of the time is spent routing the cord so it doesn’t fall in the pool or get snagged on stuff. And then, the cord is never quite long enough to go everywhere I need to use the unit. So, my primary motivation for buying the Echo was to get a unit that performs similarly to the Toro, sans cord. With that in mind, here’s how the units compare in various departments.


Performance: Both units have about the same amount of power, that is to say, they’re both adequate for clearing paved surfaces, which is my primary use for them. The ES-210 has Echo’s smallest blower engine (21.2cc). It’s not going to move big piles of wet leaves in tall grass, but that’s not what I bought it for. Vac performance is similar for both units as well.

Controls: The Echo is a little more versatile in that it has a gas engine with a variable throttle, so I have more control over the blower velocity. The Toro has a two-speed motor (although there is a different model available, the “Ultra Blower Vac”, with a variable speed motor).

Ergonomics: Being gas powered, the Echo is heavier than the Toro, with a dry weight of 9.7lbs plus the weight of the gas. That’s a tradeoff you have to make with gas vs. electric. Operator fatigue will become an issue with any handheld blower after a certain amount of time which varies inversely with the weight. However, for the length of time I typically use the thing, it hasn’t been a problem for me. FWIW, 9.7lbs isn’t too bad as far as handheld gas blowers go — Echo’s next model up, the ES-230, is almost 2 pounds heavier.

In vac mode, the Toro’s ergonomics have always seemed a little awkward to me. The Echo is better in this department.

Convenience: For blowing, you can’t beat a gas blower for convenience. Just take it down, start it up, and blow away. No cord to unspool, set up, and put away when you’re done. Of course, that convenience goes away if the blower doesn’t start easily. With two-cycle gas engines, it’s worth it to pay a bit more and get a brand like Echo or Stihl. The payback is an engine that starts reliably every time, and saves countless hours of aggravation. Don’t waste your time or money on cheap two-cycle engines.

With these particular units, another important convenience aspect is the ease of converting from blower to vac and back again. The Toro has the edge here. With the Toro, I can convert in just a few seconds. All of the pipes have quick release tabs, so it’s just a matter of pulling off the blower pipes and snapping on the vacuum pipes and bag. With the Echo, I have to twist the blower pipe on and off, which is harder to do than with the Toro. Then I have to secure the vac pipe to the unit, which requires a screwdriver to tighten a band clamp. Tho whole process takes a couple of minutes, which is still acceptable, but it’s slow and cumbersome compared to the Toro.

Maintenance: Another department where the electric wins, for obvious reasons. A gas engine requires periodic maintenance while an electric one doesn’t. Of course, there’s not too much that needs to be done with a two-cycle blower.. very few moving parts, no oil to change, etc. End-of-season maintenance shouldn’t take more than 10 or 15 minutes. In my case, I already have 6-odd other gas engines that I maintain, and taking this one on wasn’t really an issue for me at all.

Price: Toro: $60. Echo: $200. Nuff said 🙂

In conclusion: It’s hard to go wrong with either unit. The deciding factor is the cord. If you can deal with the cord, buy the Toro. If not, buy the Echo. Of course, you may think you can deal with the cord at first (as I did), and then find that it’s too much of a hassle. In my case, it’s also a potential hazard. So, I switched to gas and I’m happy. YMMV!

Out-of-control Azaleas

It’s azalea-pruning time of year again. I’ve got a multi-year project going to tame the two huge azaleas outside our living room window. They were neglected for a long time and have gotten very leggy, woody and overgrown. One of them is actually two azalea bushes that have grown together. The big ones are way too big for their britches — that is, aesthetically, they don’t work well right alongside the house. I’d love to transplant them somewhere they can bush out to their hearts’ content. Then, I’ll get some more little dwarf azaleas to plant next to the house. The U.S. National Arboretum has a very informative Azalea FAQ page. An excerpt:

Azaleas have very shallow root systems, so even large azaleas may be successfully transplanted. It is important to dig a wide root ball. Don’t worry about digging deep into the soil since most azalea roots are near the surface. The best time to do this is early spring or early fall when the weather is cool. Begin by preparing the new planting site. Then dig the azalea, preserving a root ball as wide as can be safely moved. You can lift it onto a tarp and then use the tarp to drag the plant to its new location rather than picking it up. Be sure not to plant the azalea too deeply and water it thoroughly after transplanting.

So it seems like it should be doable. Maybe I can put it on the plate for this Fall.

A bit of everything today

I skipped work today so I could ferry the clan around on various errands, and seized the opportunity to knock a few odd things off the to-do list.

First off, I paid my first visit to Namco, my favorite place to get pool supplies. The prices have gone up this year, which comes as absolutely no surprise to me. But, they’re still pretty much the cheapest place around for chemicals, particularly after late August when they blow everything out at half price (which really drives home how high the dealer markup is on pool chemicals). I bought a couple 5-gallon jugs of liquid chlorine, which is basically sodium hypochlorite (household bleach) at about twice the strength of grocery store bleach. Namco has this stuff at $13 for 5 gallons, plus a $6 deposit for the jug. That’s a decent price, and it makes me wonder how much of a premium I’d pay to use this stuff instead of calcium hypochlorite for daily chlorination. The main advantage of cal-hypo is its shelf life: I can buy it at half price late in the season, and it’ll still be just as potent the following spring. Its drawback is inconvenience. To avoid clouding the pool water, you need to dissolve the cal-hypo in a pail of water, then pour it off. Then you have a lot of sediment left over that you have to get rid of. The liquid chlorine is much more convenient, but its shelf life is shorter, so I’d need to buy it at full price during the season. The challenge here is to figure out the true effectiveness of the cal-hypo vs the liquid stuff, then see how much of a premium I’d pay for the liquid stuff, and determine if the convenience is worth the price difference. I love doing this kinda stuff, so you can be sure I’ll tackle that soon..

In other news, we got our vegetable garden planted. To keep the critters at bay, we strung chicken wire around the garden and hung some old CDs above it. The theory is that the CDs will blow around and flash as they catch the light, which discourages birds. We’ll see how it does this year. I guess the next step would be to add lawn edging to prevent moles/groundhogs/etc.

… and finally, I made a stab at speeding my wife’s anemic Windows XP box up a bit. Basically I went into the Microsoft System Configuration utility (Start Menu -> Run -> enter msconfig), went to the “startup” tab, and disabled a whole bunch of unnecessary kruft that the OS was starting up at boot time. It’s amazing the amount of junk that accumulates there over time.. Quicktime crap, Adobe crap, crap from some kid’s software we installed, crap from Dell, crap from the stupid stuff that Dell pre-installs on the computer, AOL crap, the list goes on and on. After I turned a bunch of stuff off, I rebooted and the machine seemed a good deal snappier. I guess we’ll see how it goes from here.

Post-setting indoctrination

I set a 4×4 post today, complete with concrete footing. While this may not seem like much, it was a big deal for me as I’d never done it before. My parting impression: it’s a lot of work. Between digging the hole and handling the concrete, it’s quite the back breaker.

To dig the hole, I used a garden variety post-hole digger. I can see why people recommend a power auger if you’re doing a lot of these… it’s slow going. And of course, by Murphy’s law, about 1 foot down I hit a giant rock (several giant rocks, actually). I was able to break them up pretty easily with my ball-peen hammer and a cold chisel, but it certainly added some additional sweat equity to the job. An air chisel or demo hammer would probably make this a bit more fun.

I wanted to get the hole about 2-1/2 feet deep, but I stopped a couple inches short because I hit a giant root, and I made the executive decision that the hole was deep enough. Then I dumped in some gravel, followed by a few inches of concrete for the footing. Then I stuck the post in, plumbed it and staked it up, and backfilled the hole with concrete. It sounds easy, but it was a lot of work, especially since I was mixing the concrete by hand. The concrete is still curing, and hopefully once it’s done the post will be pretty bulletproof.

Incidentally, the purpose of the post is to support…. a bird feeder. Yep, a 4×4 with concrete footing is probably way overkill for a bird feeder, but it was a worthwhile exercise nonetheless. I may be doing the same thing for our mailbox one of these days.. the mailbox and post have both seen better days.