More weather

With my favorite meteorologist commenting in the previous blog entry about the onset of the rainiest part of the wet season, I remembered something I'd read in the LA Times House and Garden section just the other day. Robert Smaus comments in his Dec 28th column, THE MONTHLY GARDENER, that, "January is historically a dry month in the garden, though some weather experts are forecasting that this winter's heaviest rains may get an early start....Don't wait too long to do garden jobs because February and March are usually our rainiest months, when soils will be too wet to dig in or walk on."

However, my digging around in the recent historical data (60 year graph below) suggests that January can be just as wet as February in Los Angeles, and that March is generally less wet than February. On the other hand, the two years for which I have more detailed information suggest that January can indeed be a dry month. Hmmm.... Re-examining the way I've presented the data in the previous blog, it leaves a lot be desired: The connect the dots graphing technique leads to the conclusion that rainfall increases linearly between two storms, when that's really not the case at all. A bar chart would be better. Another possibility is that I've mis-graphed the data below. I'll have to check that, as well as the apparently popular view that Feb and March are usually the wettest months.


Rainfall for 2004-; front yard meadow

We had 0.26" of rain last night, according to the rain gauge in my back yard. I've been measuring rainfall since fall of 2004 and I've been using the same old sheet of paper to write the totals down on, which doesn't give a whole lot of insight into year-to-year variations. Today I decided to innovate and graph them all up using Excel. Unfortunately, at this time I can't make Excel overlay the 2004 and 2005 winters in graphical form, for comparison to this winter. I'm certain that this would be a trivial operation in some more competent graphing program.

Until I solve the graphing problem, I'll just note that in the 2004 wet season (officially July 1 to June 30, but I use Oct 1 to May 31) I had about 7.4 inches at the end of December, with a seasonal total of about 29 inches. By contrast, in 2005-2006 I had only 1.4 inches by the end of December and just over 10 inches for the whole season. This year we stand at about 3/4 inch as I write, less than in both previous years. However, I think that there's a high dispersion in rainfall totals, as well as the timing of its arrival, so I wouldn't conclude that we have any sort of trend based solely on the current 2+ years of data.

UPDATE: Obviously, I've solved the Excel problem. As usual, click for a full sized version. Average annual rainfall for the past 60 years at the official Los Angeles measuring point is 12.24 inches (link). I've also determined that the 60 year monthly standard deviation in rainfall actually exceeds the average in many months. Using the usual propogation of errors, I see a plus or minus 5.15 inches at the end of an average rainy season. Assuming that monthly rainfall is normally distributed, this means that about 68% of the time rainfall totals will be between about 7 and 17 inches (12-5 to 12+5).

I've been keeping an eye on the rainfall this year because I wanted to plant my front yard native meadow coincident with the rainy season. I sowed the seeds yesterday (festuca rubra molate, red needle grass, yarrow, blue-eyed grass, two types of clarkia, poppies, some local fuchsia, and others - full list later when I can retrieve it) because we were expecting rain: So far, so good. Unfortunately, I have to be away for several days since my house is tented (as of today) for termites and we're looking at sunny weather for eight days or so. I fear they may sprout, dry, and die by the time they get more water.

The front yard meadow is about 350 square feet of former turf lawn adjacent to the sidewalk. The rest of the front yard lawn had already been removed to make way for other natives and Mediterranean plants. For the meadow, I scraped the earth into a carefully sculpted hillock that runs the length of the yard to give my otherwise flat yard some texture, to allow for different soil dampness levels (the meadow area only has sprinkler irrigation), to provide an on-property low spot for water retention, and to avoid having to haul away the excess soil. The low hillocks are liberally larded with the (hopefully) dead remnants of the lawn, so they will have quite different drainage and fertility than the adjacent "low lands". I killed the lawn and had it scraped back in September. Following that, I graded, sculpted, sifted and watered it, raising a fine crop of latent weeds from the seed bank. These were subsequently poisoned with Round Up. The whole process was then repeated again, with less of the grading and more of the watering. By Christmas I figured that my long suffering neighbors had waited for me to get to business long enough.

I have always been cautious of the eventual curb appeal of the native garden and have tried for a more tended look than the nice couple in the next city over who were told to cut down their weeds (referring to the native plants). I think that a meadow of wildflowers mixed with perrennial grasses might be acceptable to the greener grass through chemistry crowd.

UPDATE: The termite folks trampled all over the meadow, even after I pointed out to them that I'd just seeded it. I don't know how this will affect things. They also dissappeared a new planting that I'd protected with a pair of stakes and which I'd also pointed out to them.


This year in blogging

Including this blog, I have written 64 blogs this year. According to the tags on my blogs it appears that I write mostly about home improvement (21 times) and native plants (10 time). That's not too surprising, since this has become something of a home rennovation planning document for me. I'd like to write more about food (8), wine (0), and exotic travel destinations (0).

I've labelled this post as amusing, but that's only really true if you're me. ;-) Or perhaps it qualifies as a muse upon the merits of blogging.


Impromptu pork out

I'm cleaning out the kitchen in preparation for having the house tented for termites in a week or so. That means that there are all sorts of odds and ends to cook. Last night it was a happy convergence of a defrosted pork loin, some pork sausage, a sale package for Mrs. Cubbins stuffing mix, Brussels sprouts, a metric buttload of aging apples from our apple expedition and bacon.

This got turned into sage and anise seed encrusted roast pork loin. Use the remnants of some organic yellow mustard as a glue layer for the herb crust. Bruise the anise seeds before applying with tons of Albanian rubbed sage, sea salt, and pepper. I roasted mostly at high heat (arbitrarily, but justified (also arbitrarily and possibly incorrectly) by a need for speed and because these pork loins are very lean).

The sausage got browned, copious amounts of onions and celery were dispatched and clarified, more metric buttloads of sage were applied and many apples were sliced (skin on). The sausage pan was deglazed with Trader Joe's chicken stock (I'd made my recent chickens and turkeys into soup which we finished last night) to which I added some Penzy's "better than bouillon"-equivalent and the whole lot was mixed with the Mrs. Cubbins bread crumbs in a rectangular baking dish. (Really, why I buy the pre-made crouton mix is beyond me. I could have GREAT baguette croutons for probably less money and only a modicum of effort.) Correct seasoning and bake with the pork loin, covered, and then later, uncovered. I made similar stuffing under Mom's direction for Thanksgiving and I think that this one turned out far better. I don't know what the differences were.

The Brussels sprouts were steamed (not quite enough, but that means the leftovers will rewarm better) and then added to a pan in which I'd browned some apple-smoked bacon pieces until crisp. Marjoram (I was out of the preferred thyme and even sage by that point) topped it off, with some pepper. I also had some chopped garlic that I added as an afterthought. That was a brain fart. I wish I hadn't.

We drank sparkling cider with the meal. Pretty amazing impromptu effort for a Monday night. This is the second time I've impressed myself in the past month by pulling together some more complex meals than my usual weekday fare. Maybe I've turned a corner in my cooking prowess.


Antica Pizzeria

If you read the top few Google links for Antica Pizzerria in Marina Del Rey you'd think that I'd be in for a night of pizza purgatory. I'm happy to report that nothing could be farther from the truth. I'd heard about Antica Pizzeria previously in the context of an occasional skirmish in the pizza wars. I remember comments mostly along the lines of, "Oh, the pizza Margherita is good", which seemed to imply that the rest of the menu was not.

For those not in the know, it's LA's only certified VPN pizzeria (not counting its other LA outpost closer to downtown). It's located in a mall in Marina del Rey, incongruously located next door to a Souplantation. Three of us dined there last night and had a wonderful experience.

We started with Antipasto Misto dal Deli, a selection of vegetables (in our case carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, and rapini), cooked and seasoned to perfection to showcase their wonderful flavors. My favorite of the bunch was the rapini (aka broccoli rabe) which had a smoky taste. I'm not too familiar with this vegetable, but I'm sure it will make an appearance on my kitchen table in the near future. Maybe it had been wilted in their wood fired pizza oven?

Throwing caution to the wind, we didn't order the pizze Margherita. Instead we moved on to two excellent pizzas, the pizze Bianca al Prosciutto ($11.95 - Mozzarella, parmesan, prosciutto and arugula) and the pizze Quattro Formaggi ($11.50 - Parmesan, gorgonzola, smoked and regular mozzarella). Both were delicious.

The flavor combination on the pizza bianco was superb. The cheese, arugula, and proscuitto flavor balance and combination were inspired. Of course it's been around for years, but I'm thankful that I know about it now. I hadn't previously been an arugula fan, but like rapini you will find me buying some in the near future. Maybe it will make its way onto my own pizzas.

The pizza Quattro Formaggi was also excellent. The gorgonzola and smoked mozzarella didn’t overpower and the combination sung together in perfect four part harmony.

At least one poor review of this restaurant complained that pizzas were "inexplicably served without sauce." Hey, ignoramus! There's a long tradition of the pizza bianco (translation white, implying no tomato sauce) and anyone who thinks this is inexplicable has no business writing pizza reviews.

Some poor and so-so reviews of this restaurant criticized service but service was attentive throughout our meal and an early mix up with our drinks was quickly and efficiently rectified.

The one criticism that I've read of Antica Pizzeria that does hold an element of truth is that the crusts of the pizzas tend to get a bit soggy. Soggy's not really the right word, but they aren't cracker crisp on the outside, as you'd expect from an 800F wood-fired pizza oven. This didn't detract from the flavor, but the texture of the pizza near the middle wasn't everything it could be. Don't get me wrong, it was still delicious, but I think that the pizzas would benefit from being placed on a warm porous surface rather than the serving plates*. I've noticed a similar problem with my own BBQ-made pizzas: the crust is stupendous right off the BBQ, but gets a bit less crispy after a short time out of the oven.

* Theory: the pizzas re-condense some of their own moisture back into the crust when placed in contact with the colder serving plate. A warm porous serving platter would act as a sink for condensing moisture and keep the crust crispier.


Get Mortified

A friend called with good news. While chatting, she told me about this outfit.


The premise is simple, and it works: Mine your most embarrassing teen journal entries and memories for comedic value.

Alfa Christmas

From a few years back. Pictured are my brothers and father.


Notes on how to stucco

This blog entry gets a fair number of hits. As an FYI, there are photos and a bit more written text in my weekend update from 22 Sep, 08.

I've modified the text below from instructions first posted on the Better Homes and Gardens website. I got really confused about a month ago when my stucco guy found my prep work completely lacking. I had prepped expanded metal mesh over house paper, which allows quite a bit of flex in the EMM. He wanted a firm substrate to work with, and I've since found at least one other web site that stated there are regional differences in stucco techinques: some regions do metal mesh over paper, others back that with plywood sheathing. The advantage of plywood sheathing is that you don't have to wait for the first scratch coat of stucco to dry and you can finish a wall in one day as a result. With EMM over paper, the scratch coat (when dry) provides the rigid substrate.

Here's my edit of the BHG article. Their's had nice graphics, but I don't think they're necessary for an understanding of what to do.

Of all wall materials, stucco is one of the most difficult to patch. Small cracks can be widened slightly and filled with patching cement. But if the damage is more extensive, you must chip away the old material down to the lath or masonry underneath, then build up a new surface in three layers.

Problem areas larger than 4 feet square usually require that the entire wall be restuccoed -- a job for an experienced masonry contractor (or a poor and desparate homewoner). Small, do-it-yourself patching jobs can be done during mild weather when there's no danger of freezing. Plan on the project taking at least three days. Wait at least six weeks before painting, then prime and paint with a concrete coating. Note: I'm not planning on a concrete coating at this opint. This may be intended for areas with more rain or snow.

Colored stucco is difficult to match. Experiment with pigments, keeping in mind that colors will fade as much as 70 percent by the time the stucco dries. Never let the coloring pigment exceed 3 percent of the batch's total volume.

3 working days for a large patch extended over 10 to 12 days to cover drying time. (Unless stuccoing over plywood / paper / EMM in which case you needn't wait for drying)

Moderate to advanced masonry skills. (If you watch someone do this once or twice, you'll have the confidence to tackle this yourself, or have a sufficiently high level of poverty+desperation.)

Cold chisel, pry bar, hammer, stapler, trowel, hawk, improvised rake, spray hose, metal straightedge.

1. Prepare the area
Wearing gloves and goggles, chip away loose stucco with a hammer, cold chisel, and pry bar. Use snips or wire cutters to cut metal lath. Staple new roofing felt and metal lath onto sheathing. Make sure the surrounding stucco is firmly attached; if not, chip away more.
1A. If repairing a large area, feather / bevel the edges of the remaining stucco with the chisel so that you can blend in the new stucco better. If repairing a smaller area (a crack, for instance). Some practitioners recommend chiseling back until you've revealed the original underlying chicken wire / EMM in order to tie the repair in physically with original. This is to prevent cracks along the new/old interface. Adhesion promoter (step 2A) eliminates this need, in theory.

2A. Apply concrete adhesion promoter to edges of existing stucco. A 1 gallon container is about $10 at Home Depot, and that ought to be a lifetime supply - it appears to be something like carpenters wood glue, and indeed CWG might work in a pinch. This is essential in areas around windows and doors, where there is high likelihood of cracks propogating along the interface between new and old stucco. My buddy Warren was told that stucco repair caulk would also do the trick, but I don't see how a bead of compliant caulk will hold anything past the first time the door is slammed.

2B. Apply the first coat
Apply the first coat of stucco to a depth about 1/4 inch below surrounding surfaces. Press with the trowel to embed it firmly in the lath. My stucco guy used a VERY thin mix of stucco over plywood / paper / EMM. If working with only paper /EMM it will need to be thicker.

3. Rake the patch if applying over paper / EMM.
When the stucco begins to firm up, scratch it with an improvised rake made by driving nails through a piece of wood. The scratches should be about 1/8-inch deep.
3A. Rough the patch surface using a wooden float if applying over plywood / paper / EMM.

4. Mist the patch
Mist the scratch coat with fine spray, keeping it damp for two days. In windy or sunny weather, repeat several times daily. I bought a spray bottle for this purpose. I think a hose would be too uncontrolable.
4A. Obviously, you don't wait if stuccoing over plywood / paper / EMM, but do keep a spray bottle on hand for misting. Use as needed.

5. Apply the second coat
Apply the second (brown) coat to within about 1/8 inch of the surface and level it off with a straightedge.

6. Float the second coat
"Float" the brown coat by working it with a trowel until water comes to the surface.
6A. Rough the coat with the wooden float if applying over plywood / paper / EMM.

7. Apply the finish / color coat (so-called even if it doesn't have color).
Mist the brown coat for two days, then wait a week. While you are waiting, practice applying finish stucco to a piece of plywood until you can achieve a texture that blends in with the rest of the wall. To complete the job, moisten the brown coat and mix a batch of finish stucco. Smooth on finish coat. Texture it within half an hour.
7A. If stuccoing over plywood / paper / EMM wait for the stucco to dry sufficiently to float it, drawing water to the surface. Texture it to match surrounding stucco at this time.


Yet More To Do

Moved this up from the previous to do list blog while dropping off the items that I think are REALLY completed.

List updated 13 December.

Yet More To Do lists, priority ranked(?)
  • Prep house for termite tenting, Dec 26-29th.
  • Put front gutters in.
  • Get cotoneaster out.
  • Get morea down to chez frere. I have realized that their absence will make the front a bit bare, so I first need something to replace them.
  • Replace porch rail, preferably with something aesthetically pleasing and wide enough to easily hold a bottle of wine or some potted plants.
  • Get native plants in. Some done.
  • Call an electrician or three for estimates on service upgrades. Expecting $1500 to $2000 cost. Two sort of down, one to go. (Estimate of $1900 from Gene at One Stop Electric, but that doesn't include trenching the patio for a second ground rod attachment, $2400 over the phone estimate from Direct Electric Inc 310-978-8471 who advised me to call Edison to get my new meter "spotted" [approved as to location] at which point they would come by and give me a real estimate. Edison will be by on the 20th - I'll need to leave a map with preferred locations. Express Electrical Service 310-643-8463 wanted $19.95 to come by for an estimate. I told them I'd think about it.) Direct also indicated taht service upgrades have to be proven or justified somehow in the approval process with a "green sheet". Remodeling a kitchen seemed to pass as appropriate justification on the phone.
  • Pick colors and paint some areas on the house in preparation for a whole house paint job. There is a service to color a digital photo beforehand. Step one complete: Called local favorite Supremepaint (Redondo Bch: 310-540-4456) . They have referred me to a computer product called Color Preview 2000 from Benjamin Moore and tell me that it will do the trick. Apparently they had it in stock until six months ago. I've managed to find and order Personal Color Viewer 2.0, on the Benjamin Moore web site which runs either as a web based application (free, but no digital imports allowed) and a downloadable / CD version (costs $10, but allows imported digital pictures). A brief chat with Ben (!) at customer support resolved an issue with how the program runs on my Win 2K home computer (font size must be set to normal).
  • Cut concrete on porch for weep pit - the second of my flood mitigation attempts. Tools are on hand. Dig pit as deep as possible. Need stackable concrete block, 12" grate, and gravel. Neither Lowes nor Home Depot have the stackable block that I need.
  • Cut porch concrete for ground rod placement. It's starting to look like I should just demo the porch concrete altogether now, before the electrical upgrade. Started by demoing the brick planter at porch's edge, but now am uncertain due to Edison requirement to "spot" the meter location: The meter location could end up moving. I'm not too torn up though, the planter and the porch are going anyway.
  • Install attic vent (cut stucco, frame, paper, wire, repair stucco). I've now painted vent white. Need to cut a few framing members for inside the garage.
  • Complete electrical install near French Door. All parts at hand except outdoor light
  • Establish Coverdell account. DONE, but I had to use paperwork / check / snail mail to establish the account at ETrade, and strangely my check hasn't cleared a couple weeks after it was mailed so I still need to figure out what's happened.
  • Deck the Halls, etc.


Ethel - Light

I like Ethel's most recent release, which I downloaded from emusic.com but I'm at a loss as to how to describe the music to someone who has not already heard it since it's not my usual cup of tea and I find my vocabulary lacking. Tracks like Temporal Disturbances use voice samples to good effect, as well as percussive elements but it's mostly string-driven "classical" music with a modern interpretation. However, to put it squarely in the classical category isn't completely right. To me it seems to have elements of experimental music (all the wit and quirkiness with none of the randomness or atonality) and a sort of plucky rock / punk /pop sensibility, depending upon the tracks.

NPR has more information.

Edit 12/15: I've had more time with Light (still enjoying it) and I also downloaded Ethel's eponymous first release and can say with certainty that it is much less immediately accessible than Light. Ethel is to Light as la daube is to granita di limone - both satisfying, but in completely different ways. If you are curious about this group then start with their second release, Light.


More To Do

Moved this up from the previous blog with edits.

List updated 13 December.

Yet More To Do lists, priority ranked(?) (You'll recognize some of these from before)

  • We could get rain on Monday the 27th, so that means that I want to complete the downspout on my newly installed gutters. DONE. 0.31 inches of rain by my backyard rain gauge. Works well except the rain coming down the roof valley overshoots the gutter and splashes onto the patio. I can fix that easily enough. DONE2. Unesthetically fixed by cutting a piece from an aluminum baking tray and gluing it to the gutter.
  • My son has a family traditions day at school on Wednesday and we have to make a recipe from our culinary heritage, divide it in 25 bite size pieces, and send it with utensils to school. DONE (He thought it was tasty. His feelings were slightly hurt when his American cheese eating peers spurn our culinary traditions ;-) ).
  • Put front gutters in.
  • Get cotoneaster, morea, and jasmine out and down to chez frere. Jasmine DONE at the same time that I ferried cement board to his house Sun the 17th.
  • Get native plants in. Some done.
  • Call an electrician or three for estimates on service upgrades. Expecting $1500 to $2000 cost. Two sort of down (estimate of $1900 from Gene at One Stop Electric, but that doesn't include trenching the patio for a second ground rod attachment, $2400 over the phone estimate from Direct Electric Inc 310-978-8471 who advised me to call Edison to get my new meter "spotted" [approved as to location] at which point they would come by and give me a real estimate. Edison will be by on the 20th - I'll need to leave a map with preferred locations.), one to go. Apparently service upgrades have to be proven or justified somehow in the approval process with a "green sheet". Remodeling a kitchen seemed to pass as appropriate justification.
  • Pick colors and paint some sample areas on the house. Is there a service to color a digital photo beforehand? Step one complete: Called local favorite Supremepaint (Redondo Bch: 310-540-4456) . They have referred me to a computer product called Color Preview 2000 from Benjamin Moore and tell me that it will do the trick. Apparently they had it in stock until six months ago. I've managed to find and order Personal Color Viewer 2.0, on the Benjamin Moore web site which runs either as a web based application (free, but no digital imports allowed) and a downloadable / CD version (costs $10, but allows imported digital pictures). PCV 2.0 does not run nicely on my computer at home (Win2k). It works at work (Win XP).
  • Dump run Saturday early AM? Check with neighbor to see if they need anything hauled to dump. DONE. Got the neighbor's stuff too. The transfer station doesn't take large stumps, so I decided that my stump was medium. No one ran after me yelling.
  • Cut concrete on porch for weep pit - the second of my flood mitigation attempts. Tools are on hand. Dig pit as deep as possible. Need stackable concrete block, 12" grate, and gravel. Neither Lowes nor Home Depot have the stackable block that I need.
  • Cut porch concrete for ground rod placement. It's starting to look like I should just demo the porch concrete altogether now, before the electrical upgrade. Started by demoing the brick planter at porch's edge, but now am uncertain due to Edison requirement to "spot" the meter location. It could end up moving. I'm not too torn up though, the planter and the porch are going anyway.
  • Install attic vent (cut stucco, frame, paper, wire, repair stucco). I've now painted vent white. Need to cut a few framing members for inside the garage.
  • Complete electrical install near French Door. All parts at hand except outdoor lights.
  • Find a nice outdoor light or lights. Lamps Plus (18989 Hawthorne Blvd, Torrance, CA 90504) for purchase? Plenty of selection there, such as this one on sale. I really like this sale item - whimsical and not too "of an era" so that it would fit well into the no style / Ranch / Cal cottage / 50s tract theme that I have going chez moi. However, a tape measure confirms that it won't fit. Even the smaller one (not on sale at $134.99!! - Cotswold 12 1/2" High Down Mount Outdoor Wall Light) doesn't fit - too tall by 1.5 inches or so. Fiddlesticks! Home Depot has nothing and Lowes has only one possibility, based on several surveys of both stores' mechandise. Other places: Bellacor and Arcadian Lighting seem to have decent selection. DONE. Found a lamp at Lowes (at right) that was sized to fit, looks ok, and will do the job. At $13.47 I don't mind replacing it when I later decide I've found my ideal.
  • Establish Coverdell account. DONE (Had to use paperwork to establish the account at ETrade, but strangely my check hasn't cleared a couple weeks after it was mailed).



Thanksgiving was great for me. I hope it was great for you too. Besides the usual activities, we hiked to the top of Montecito Peak on Saturday. There was a ~1000 ft elevation gain and 10 miles of hiking. This was tiring enough for us city folks, so we were suitably impressed by the numerous people on the trail who were participating in the Santa Barbara Nine Trail Run. This is a 35 mile, 10.5k ft elevation change trail run.

Looking at the 9 Trails map, it's hard to believe that we hiked to the top of Montecito Peak. It looks so far up. I do know that we got up to a fire road and a beautiful view with quail and hawks. Along the way we passed trail markers #1 - #5 (unitless) which also gave elevation.

Native Plant Society - local chapters

My local chapters of the California Native Plant Society are the South Coast Chapter (Palos Verdes Penninsula and San Clemente and Santa Catalina Islands) and the Los Angeles/Santa Monica Mountains Chapter. I wonder if there's major differences between them? One might imagine so, based on their meeting places. The SC-CNPS meets at the South Coast Botanic Gardens mid way up to the top of snooty PV, whereas the LA-CNPS meets in the renter's paradise of Santa Monica. I admit I'm drawn to snooty, in part because it's easier to drive to.

If I ever check them out, expect a full report.


Food and Cooking Supply Stores Nearby

Surfas, Corner of W. Washington and National Blvd. Culver City, CA 90232.

Cash and Carry (division of Smart and Final) 4310 W. 190th street , Torrance, CA, 90504.

La Espanola, 25020 Doble Avenue, Harbor City, California 90710, Phone: (310) 539-0455.

I've been a long-time customer of Surfas and La Espanola. Cash and Carry is new to me.

How popular is your name?

  • There are 134,986 people in the U.S. with my first name.
  • Statistically the 433rd most popular first name. (tied with 5 other first names)
  • There are 353,963 people in the U.S. with the my name.
  • Statistically the 57th most popular last name.

I had no idea my name was so popular.

LogoThere are:
people with my name
in the U.S.A.

How many have your name?


Stucco; Bonus Chores

I spent 9 hours today working with Antonio on the house. Antonio knows his stucco, since that's his weekday job. At first he approved of my expanded metal mesh over paper and the other prep work I'd done, and he proceeded to mix up a wheelbarrow full of stucco. But when he went to apply it, he found my installation totally lacking. So we pulled it all off in a rush, since a wheelbarrow full of cured concrete wasn't our idea of forward progress, and backed it with with some 1/8" plywood sheathing that I had around. I have to admit that I'm still a bit confused about why he needed such a rigid backing for the stucco, and I'll probably explore that in a later blog to try and capture the lessons learned. Briefly, I think that he's used to completing a stucco job in a day, rather than the more traditional process of waiting days for each of three stucco layers to cure. A rigid backing allows him to do that. These houses didn't originally have rigid backing (just chicken wire over house paper which is basically what I supplied him), so I think that techniques have changed over the years. His technique makes sense if he's working for a contractor, since time is lots of money for those guys. The upshot is that he got it all done today.

Bonus chore #1 was to replace the front porch support posts. Until now, all construction action has taken place in the back. There were three posts, and all three were so dry rotted at their bases that the porch roof was supporting them, rather than the other way around. This became a matter of immediate high urgency when in the process of removing a section of porch rail to give me another egress from the porch (to accomodate my revamped native garden) I poked my screwdriver all the way through the thin veneer of paint that wrapped the dry rot. The posts are replaced now (well, 2 of 3) and I'll paint them with a rot preventer / water repellant before the house paint, making this an opportune time to pick my new trim colors, which I guess is bonus chore #2. This is following along quite well with my previous observations of Cascading Home Repair. By the way, the dry rot is undoubtedly caused by the long term absence of gutters in the front of the house. I guess I'll be fixing that problem too. Ah! bonus chore #3! Fortunately, I have recent experience. So I'll just whip all these bonus chores out before the first good rain of the year while keeping up on all the other planned ones.


Modern Wood Stoves

When I bought this house, I thought to myself, "Ah - no crummy fireplace to vent away the heat in winter. I like it!". As it turns out, I miss having a fireplace. I also like these stoves. Maybe next winter I can have one to warm my house.

There appears to be only a few brands of modern design wood stoves, Rais, Scan, and Wittus . A somewhat more traditional lineup is offered by Moresoe and even more so (hehe) by Jotul and Countryflame.

Availability is a problem for many of these. Some of the ones that I didn't even bother to mention appear to have appointment-only showrooms in Manhattan (the borough of New York, not the local beach city). However, Rais and Scan are available through Okell's Fireplace, located in Hermosa Beach . Okell's has a different web address than you'd expect.

Of the two, Scan is more "affordable". I think I recall prices starting at about $1600 for a couple of basic Scan ovens. The options I'd like brought it up another maybe $250. The nice thing is that $2k for an occasional-use home furnishing seemed like it was completely over the top a couple years ago. Now it just seems somewhat over the top.

An interesting thought: Some municipalities (for example, Boulder, Co) regulate the use of wood fired stoves. However, many of the Scan and Rais models are listed in their sales literature as ovens, not stoves. (They have an enclosed space above the firebox which comes with an optional door and soapstone liner to be used as an "oven"). I wonder if this is a ploy to avoid being impacted by those regulations?

I checked out prices on 11/27 on the way back from an errand and they are nowhere near what I had remembered. Perhaps our crummy exchange rate has affected them, but I'm getting prices that are about $1000 more than I remember from last year on both Scan and Rais stoves. The available models have changed too, making Rais the leader in the ones I like best.

Weekend Planning

The usual weekend planning here.

  • Demo cotoneaster, install ceanothus in its place - All tools are on hand. Looks like a trip to the dump on Sunday with the waste is out (they are closed). I really ought to be able to get rid of my garden waste for free, but it looks like only dirt and my asphalt driveway are free.
  • Check with neighbor to see they need anything hauled to dump - can I do the hauling Wednesday AM?
  • Cut concrete on porch for weep pit - the second of my flood mitigation attempts. Tools are on hand. Dig pit as deep as possible. Need stackable concrete block, 12" grate, and gravel.
  • Repair stucco around French door. All parts on hand except expertise.
  • Get electrician in for estimate on service upgrade.
  • Install attic vent (cut stucco, frame, paper, wire, repair stucco. Need to paint vent ahead of time and cut a few framing members for inside the garage.
  • Complete electrical install.
  • Purchase / install outdoor lights.
  • Install othe native plants.

Letter to Santa

My son wrote a letter to Santa. He's now in 3rd grade (almost 8.5 years old). His list includes Pokemon cards, Legos, Armymen, Armymen / Navy , Armymen/Marine, (these three are specific call outs for the little green plastic army men), cherries (Santa already gives cherries as a stocking gift, but he's hoping for even more), Bionicles, and a Nerf gun. He sealed the letter up and I told him I'd mail it at work. When I got to work I realized that he'd included a quarter, perhaps in an effort to bribe Santa. He writes, "PS Last year I got an Army man with a broken head."

This calls for a response of some sort. Do his coins get gold plated and returned? Does he get a hurt letter from an insulted St. Nick?

Edit 11/28: A conversation with him had him first "forgetting" that he'd put in a quarter, then asserting that it was for "taxes".

Weekend Update: Oak Glen, Gutters, etc

Friday was Veterans Day and therefore it was day two in a four day weekend for elementary schools. Since no child care was provided by the school for those of us who have regular jobs, I decided we'd made a trip to Oak Glen. Located just out of Yucaipa, Oak Glen is known for its apples and indeed we found some delicious apples (we came home with Mutsu, Delicious Blush, and one other apple. The Pink Ladys and other more usual apples were also good, but the local farmer's market will have those in abundance), apple cider (At $10 per gallon, it's not priced like Trader Joes but it has a real individual and unique taste) , and apple pie (5 lbs of pie for $12 and it's quite clear that it's made with fresh apples, not something out of a can).

Saturday we did the Farmer's market thing and went hiking in PV. Later, I put up gutters around the poorly drained patio area. This area has suffered for years with poor drainage due to a concrete slab patio that settled lower against the house, which was then backfilled with yet more concrete. I guess the previous owners didn't think to gutter the porch.

I was guilty of perpetuating this problem, but under impetus from the risk of flooding due to the location of the new French doors, I decided to install gutters as one of two preventive measures. I previously expressed angst about using white painted metal gutters from Home Depot, but I didn't want to mess around with a special order of brown vinyl to match the rest of the house. I plunged into the task and lo and behold - they turned out great and don't look mismatched to the others at all since they are not side by side with existing gutters.

Later, while cleaning out the older gutters I noticed that a vinyl hanger was broken and other parts were in poor shape because of embrittlement from the sun. These gutters are only at most 4 years old! Considering all factors now: my increased environmental sensitivity, the looks, ease of installation, and perhaps better durability, I'll go with metal over vinyl for any future installations. Seamless metal is probably a luxury that I won't indulge.

The one bad thing that happened this weekend was that in the process of putting up the gutters I took a bad spill off the ladder and hurt my back. I managed to finish up the gutter chores, but my strength is pretty limited right now. Healing does appear to be taking place, making me optimistic that I'll get some stuff done this weekend which will be the subject of a later planning blog.


Cub Scout Fall Encampment, Native Plantings, Halloween

Last weekend was the big Cub Scout Fall Encampment, which went over really well with my son. We camped Friday and Saturday nights at the Firestone Scout Reservation, shot BB guns, did crafts, and played with the other kids. Needless to say, this left little time for house work. Sunday afternoon I did manage some mowing and watering chores and I got a couple plants in the ground from my recent splurge at the Payne Foundation. They were:

Lilac Verbena (Verbena Lilacina, a Baja native - Silt, sand, rocky! Extremely showy and drought-tolerant. Attracts butterflies. Dead head after bloom. Once a month deep water for year round bloom.) will take the place of a non-native Verbena.

Matilija poppies (Romneya coulteri - Well-draining soil, full sun, dry to semi-dry, Known as the "fried-egg flower" for its huge blossoms (to 9" across). One of California's most spectacular and best-known flowers. Once established, it spreads over a large area. Great for slope or back of garden.) will take the former place of the ornamental pea plant. This link gives me hope that it will grow in my yard.

California sagebrush (Artemisia Californica "Canyon Gray" trailing sagebrush - stays only about a foot tall, tolerates serpentine and clay soils as well as well drained soils.) See pictures here and here.

So far I'm not impressing myself with how my choices line up with my soil, but we'll see how it goes. For those wondering why I keep repeating the Latin names and growing conditions along with the common names, it's so that I can learn them. I have a mind like a steel sieve when it comes to things like that.

Oh, and then there was Hallowe'en! We trick or treated for about 2 hours total, with a 30 minute rest at home at the 2/3rds point. I gave out about 100 pieces of candy during that 30 minutes. The ones I hated giving candy to were the teens with no costume. I razzed them a lot about being too old and not having a costume. I also made them all give me a loud shout of "trick or treat", even the ones that clearly didn't speak English. There was also a welcome respite this year from the moms and dads collecting candy for their sleeping infant children in strollers. I saw a few signs around saying, "costumes only". I think I'll do that next year too.


A Theory of Toaster Ovens and Toast

I returned the horrible, no good, piece of crap that DeLonghi was shilling as a toaster oven. Thankfully, I had no hassles upon return at Linens and Things with my receipt and the two month old toaster oven under my arm. I was prepared to start shouting at them, but tried the pleasant approach first and I didn't even have to explain how disappointed I was in the DeLonghi's cooking and toasting performance. That was about $80 back in my wallet and its ~$40 replacement (Farberware) is a credit to small appliances everywhere.

While I'm on the subject, there seems to be a trend in the toaster over business to ever larger and fancier machines. It's not uncommon to see small countertop convection ovens (or even convection / microwave ovens) sold as "toaster" ovens. One of the selling points on my former DeLonghi was that it could cook a whole 12" pizza - a premade convenience that I do occasionally indulge in, though had I taken a ruler to the Trader Joe's refrigerated pizzas I would have found that they are only about 10". The DeLonghi was big enough that the heating elements were far away from the food, making it more difficult than necessary to toast things. Additionally, the toaster oven took forever to warm up, meaning that any toast put into a cold oven would ALWAYS come out bone dry, having been turned into a Zwieback cracker - like a piece of jerky. Jerky toast - that's what I want in the morning! This was a problem from Day 1, but I thought that I'd solve it by turning the thing on for a few minutes before putting bread in for toast. If I had time to babysit first the oven and then the toast this was a minimally acceptable strategy.

However, the strategy was compromised by the third flaw of the Delonghi: I never could figure out how to get both heating elements hot and keep them that way. I only once saw the bottom element get to a dull red hot, so I don't know if it ever was fully on. Additionally, the Delonghi would spontaneously turn off the broiler (top) element once it was hot. I don't know who the genius was at DeLonghi who designed this, but I'd like to tell them that YOU CAN'T TOAST BREAD ON LOW HEAT!! I managed to steam a nice little chop into an unappetizing shade of gray using this broiler cut-out "feature". That was the last straw.

Toast should be crispy and golden/brown (caramelized) on the outside and still moist on the inside. What this means in terms of actually cooking the thing is that you want the heat to be applied rapidy (so the toaster shouldn't take a long time to warm up) and you also want a high heat (so the outside can caramelize, giving you that nice toasty flavor, while the inside, which lags behind the outside in temperature, doesn't get so hot and therefore stays moister).

The bigger toaster ovens have a design disadvantage since they necessarily position the heating elements far from your toast. Since there's a 1/r^2 dependence on the thermal energy reaching your food, a small change in distance could result in much less toasting and much more drying. This is why "bagel width toasters" suck for regular bread - the heating elements are close to the wide bagel, but too far away from thinner bread for ideal toasting. The smaller toaster ovens appear to solve the "too far" problem in the tried and true American fashion by applying more power, which they can do because they have heating elements that can handle a higher heat output without self-destructing. (My new Farberware toaster oven has coil inside quartz or glass heating elements and is rated 1200 Watts. I've frequently seen high power consumption on the larger toaster ovens as a selling point - up to 1550 Watts. But there's only so far you can take that before customers complain that their circuit breakers trip when they use the coffee brewer at the same time as the toaster oven. I would guess that toasters, as opposed to toaster ovens, are limited by their size and price points to lower ouput flat heating elements typically made from NiChrome wire and I would also guess that they run at proportionately lower power. A brief survey of toasters on sale at Amazon.com shows that what must be the Cadillac of toasters - the 10 pound, four slice, model FEP4B toaster from Krups - has a power rating of 1500 Watts. I imagine this is the high water mark, since most don't bother to mention it.) In any case, I seem to have determined experimentally what the optimum size for a toaster oven is, and most small toaster ovens will make the grade. Bigger is better only up to the point where the thermal energy you can get to your toast doesn't diminish too much.

EDIT1: In my in-box this PM,

"My DeLonghi oven died. I have to return it. I hope I can find the receipt. It just stopped working when I was cooking in it. I hope you like your Farberware one better.

[Who purchased her identical oven only a short time before I did.]

Weekend Doings

Made trip to the South Gate Transfer Station (aka "the dump"). This is an essential place to get acquainted with for all do-it-yourselfers. I had a truck load of concrete, stucco, wood and plaster and it cost about $25.00 to get rid of it. The drawback was that when I arrived (10 AM on Saturday) the line was an hour long to actually get to the place where you could unload. Perhaps I should load in the PM the night before and get there at opening?

I worked on the front yard because I'm sensitive to the long-suffering neighbors who lived with my seasonal grass for so long. Moved some sprinklers, raked, got the border just how I wanted it, topped the new part of the garden area with wood chips. I'll probably have more sprinkler head changes to make, but the "grass" area (aka yarrow, aka achillea millefolium, aka "a substance that resembles grass from a distance") is more or less ready for the 2 oz of seed that I purchased at the Payne Foundation. Target sowing date: January?

I papered and screened around the French door in preparation for stucco. Now the cat (and the neighborhood cats) don't have free ruin of the house (I'm leaving the typo on purpose). My son helped pound nails on this one when he got home. Juli helped too. Still more to do on this.

Cub Scout uniform purchased for my son for next weekend's camping trip ($120!!!! for all the acoutrements).

Saw Mark and Martha and decided with Mark to try to get out to a place where we can purchase fresh apple juice to make into hard cider. Mark has previous success with this, I have previous failure.


Coverdell vs. 529 Educational Savings Plan

I suspect that there's something the T. Rowe Prices and TD Waterhouses of the world don't want us to know because I'm having trouble decyphering the institution-speak when I look into these education savings plans on their web sites. There seems to be a distinct lack of information / misinformation on some aspects of educational savings plans, and it's bugging me.

I suspect that because the big institutional investors want your unthinking business, they tend to talk up the 529 plans, which appear to be mostly poor-performing mutual funds. They get your money, skim their vig off the top, and give you some crappy return. The Coverdell plan is far better for someone who believes they can beat the average market return (minus load) that the 529 plans typically offer. The gotcha is that the Coverdell plan is limited to $2000 in annual contributions (and parental income is capped for eligibiltiy, though sadly I don't earn enough to have that apply). The 529 plan offers what is in practice unlimited annual contributions and no cap on parental income levels. Both types of funds grow without taxes on earnings, but the Coverdell has the advantage in terms of the breadth of the expenses that can be paid out of it: It can be used for many school-related expenses even in grades K-12, whereas the types of expenses that qualify for the 529 are more limited. To me it seems that the information readily available at the big institutional investors has a built in bias to herd the unsuspecting towards the 529 plans. Clearly, that type of investing situation is set up to favor the big institutional investors (at your expense).

On the other hand, either type of educational savings plan is better than any other legal alternative, so at some point you need to make a decision.

Here are the questions to which I have not yet found answers: (EDIT1 - I have answers now, indicated below, courtesy of a web site that is not affiliated with a big institution.)

  1. Can one have both a Coverdell (which one would use up to the contribution limit each year) as well as a 529 (which one would settle for as a second best investment)? I suspect the answer is yes, but no one seems to discuss this option since from the big institution's point of view. From the 16th stroy corner office, it's far better to effortlessly make 3% annually off the top of a giant, no-brains, mutual fund than to make $12.99 only once when the Coverdell owner makes a trade. Answer: Yes. As of 2002 you can have both.
  2. Can a child contribute to his own Coverdell (in addition to the parental input of $2000)? If yes, then this suggests that there is a way around the contribution limit. Answer: No. See this web page. Total contributions are always capped at $2k, but the child can contribute his or her own money to avoid parental income caps.
EDIT2: It's clear that the very best invesment strategy is a Coverdell until it's maxed (which you will invest prudently in the market), then the remainder of what you can afford in a 529. I'll be doing this soon.

EDIT3: Hot on the heels of writing this, I received my every-so-often glossy magazine from T. Rowe Price where they did lay out some information on both Coverdell ESA and 529 plans. However, I don't recall mention that you can captain your own ship with the Coverdell plan nor that you can use both plans.


weekend doings

Saturday the usual Farmers' Market trip for the last of the summer stone fruits and more of autumn's goodness in the form of persimmons and pomegranate. A friend once told me that the word "pomegranate" comes from the French "pomme au granite" (apple of granite) but tracking this down today has him at odds with Websters, who say, "Etymology: Middle English poumgrenet, from Anglo-French pome garnette, literally, seedy fruit"

A trip to the Theodore Payne Foundation had me spending $172.35 at their native plant sale -- 15% off for members, 10% off for the general public. I became a member for $30 and I think I'll be money ahead over the year, plus they were giving away a decent book on caring for natives in the garden. At a 30% marginal tax rate I save $10 by deducting the membership fee from taxes and another ~$8 on my purchases with the additional 5% member discount. So far I'm not making money after spending the $30 membership fee. In fact, I'd be money ahead today if I had just used the 10% general public discount and not joined, but I think I'll be able to use the membership throughout the year. In any event, it supports a good cause.

The plants I purchased will be used in front and back of my house as I described earlier. I overheard that the really dedicated native plant lovers were at the Payne Foundation the weekend before, knowing that their nursery was full of the rarest and most desirable plants, and they happy to pay full price. This might explain why I didn't get any of the California Bush Poppy or one of the ceanothus cultivars that I wanted. I also missed out on a particular Cal fuschia ("Route 66"), but later found a source for seed.

Hiking on Sunday was on a paved trail along the west fork of the San Gabriel River out of Azusa. It sounds sterile to describe it as "out of Azusa", but it was really quite wonderful.

The Crescent Rod shower curtain is installed and it's really quite an improvement. I'm so glad someone is innovating in bathroom design. How long did it take to figure out that curved is better? The hideous bathroom curtains are gone.

On the down side, I still have a gaping hole in the side of my house and we had abotu 0.1" rain last Friday night. During the worst of it, I was building dams with wet newspaper to keep the water away (a result of no gutters and a paved porch area that actually slopes towards the house). This could have been prevented, but my trips to Home Deport and Lowes earlier in the week to get guttering resulted in nada because they now only carry the white guttering. The rest of my house is guttered in the brown that H.D. used to carry! I was told I could special order the brown at H.D. :(


Real F-you Money

"...a very presentable net worth of $10 million, $20 million, or even $50 million, sadly, leaves one flying commercial. Hedge-fund money, by contrast, can put you into exhilarating conversations about the advantages of owning a Gulfstream versus a Falcon."


The previous brought to you by JRCC, which has had a precipitous price drop to about $13 from around $40 in the early part of this year. It was around then that Pirate Capital, an activist hedge fund, invested heavily in JRCC. A look into the background of the players turned up the amusing link.

Among Pirate Capital's comments on JRCC

"...management's failure to articulate to the investment community a cohesive operational and financial strategy, together with its demonstrated inability to meet earnings consensus. This financial underperformance has led the rating agencies to lower credit ratings on the Company's senior notes to a precarious CCC+/B3. We attribute these missteps to CEO Peter Socha's lack of operating experience within the coal industry and to the Company's lack of a CFO."

"We are outraged that the Board of Directors (the "Board") has sat silent in the wake of the Company's gross mismanagement, while receiving egregious compensation packages under the Company's 2004 Equity Incentive Plan. Additionally, we continue to be discouraged with the Company's archaic corporate governance policies..."


Weekend Progress / Stock Market Synergies / To Do

A worker, Warren, and I recovered about 350 bricks from the neighbor's yard. I'll use them as a small border around my back yard lawn or elsewhere on the property. We got a couple extra sprinklers in the front and the "lawn" border relocated to a better place. Good effort for one day's work. The doors had been shaved in their previous home. Even if I knew that was a bad thing before, then I know it doubly now. This explains in part why they were so poorly fit in their original jambs. Warren almost worked magic and got them hanging just right with very few tweaks. I will need to do a little gap filling with a small wedge of wood and some sanding and painting to make the tops align.

The doors are all rehung on nice solid brass hinges. It turned out that the "lifetime finish guarantee" Schlage hinges that I had weren't so confidence inspiring and we used some Brainerd brand hinges that Warren had around. He only had 5, however, and we couldn't find more at Home Depot or at the local mom and pop hardware store. During an online search Sunday night for the missing 6th hinge (now installed, plus 6 more for the next French door) I found out that Lowes carries Brainerd hinges. Strangely, this wasn't too easy to do with the obvious Google searches - I had trouble finding the Brainerd web site. Once found, it became apparent that Brainerd is owned by a holding company called Masco. Masco also owns many other medium to medium high end brands of home improvement supplies such as Hansgrohe, Liberty, and Delta. The interesting part about learning this that seeing that Masco is trading at about $27 with a ~13 P/E. It seems to have fallen along with the housing builder stocks, but is that really a fair valuation?

Immediate Path Forward:
wire new outlets / switches (add audio?)
paper and mesh screen house
haul trash to dump
get rev 1.0 of the front yard ready (grade, reposition sprinkler?, plant, mulch)
gutter porch
grade lawn away from porch
secure threshold and seal
secure door jambs to framing permanently
install new door hardware
sand, prime, gap fill, and paint doors

Near Future Path Forward:
stucco house
plaster interior
paint house exterior (area of repair?)
get bids for electrical service upgrade

"Here we are, two PhDs working on our own houses. I thought I was getting a PhD so that I could hire someone else to work on my house. Turns out the plumber makes more than I do." - WM


Edible Estates

More on the lawn issue, which I mentioned earlier and even earlier. I had heard about this, but hadn't bothered to track it down. A friend, knowing of my interest, sent me a link in an email to this:


Which led to this:

and this


Ford Ranger

Here's what the new Ford Ranger will look like. It has the "Edge" trim package (Who is the marketing genius who thought that name up?), which is basically a factory lift kit (on a 2WD truck) coupled with amenities like power windows. I have to admit I like the lift, but it's so totally unnecessary. Fortunately I can blame the previous owner for the choice. This is pretty much what I was looking for, though I wanted a 2002 or 2003. I'm paying proportionately more, of course, but I'm not paying the asking price either. Nor am I kidding myself that I got a great deal. I figure that I'm paying for pedigree (Carfax gave it a clean bill of health - the one previous owner had it serviced almost exactly every 3k miles and it's being sold by a local Ford dealer of some repute) and convenience (it's what I want and I didn't traipse all over LA to find it).

Here's what the dealer had to say
2004 Ford Ranger Edge Supercab
Sale Price: $15,988
Mileage: 37,690
Exterior Color: Gray
Engine: 3.0L V6
Transmission: Automatic

The Crescent Rod

I recently purchased one of these things. It's a curved shower curtain rod. The goal is to give you a bit more elbow room as compared to a straight rod. It's a good idea. The puchase price was a bit steep: $40, but I was pleased with the apparent durability of the parts: they are a thick walled tube for the rod and nicely cast wall mounts with cleanly machined screw threads and a tough looking white painted finish (well, so far, since I haven't yet used the thing). I ran into one hitch, however. This isn't a spring loaded rod - it's an exact fit. My walls were a few inches too far apart. Luckily you can call the company on an 800 number and order an extension for free in just a few hassle-free minutes. My extension is on the way!

Correction: That's a white powder coated finish, not paint. Bright stainless and brushed stainless are also advertised. In the store I assumed those SS finishes were plated chrome and avoided them since I anticipated rust. If they are SS, then maybe I should have bought one of them. I wonder how they plated stainless - that's not a process I've heard of before. Chrome, yes. Stainless, no.

Weekend Home Repair Plans

Warren will be up on Saturday at 6:30 AM and we'll rehang those French doors. We'll be done by 3:00. This is motivated by the condition of the current jambs: they are cracked in several places and don't fit the doors well. That was fine for getting the house buttoned up two weeks ago when we first hung them, but not confidence inspiring for the long term. The cracks are a strange condition for prehung doors, but perhaps it explains why they were at the Habitat for Humanity resale shop. Maybe they were never hung correctly in their previous installation.

I should plan some other activities. Rough chronological list

  • Wed night: Make plans for moving the gas lines - kind of done. Need more research, measurements
  • Thurs night: educate self on electrical wiring (not done), plan Friday purchases (done)
  • Fri: grade front yard to my liking, make purchases
  1. additional small junction box that I can run thinwall out of later for switched light farther out in yard
  2. 4" hinges with round corners
  3. 2 gang box extension with screw tabs
  4. short circuit protection for outdoor plugs
  5. PVC fittings as needed for sprinklers (4 way cross, risers, tees, elbows)
  6. wood preservative
  7. disposable tray for soaking wooden stakes
  8. 5/16" line to tie down dump loads
  9. tarp to cover dump loads

  • rehang doors
  • dig bricks - (inflate tire on wheel barrow, inform Carol we'll be taking her bricks)
  • move garden border in front yard (lay out new border, soak stakes in preservative)
  • trench front yard for additional sprinklers - (layout new sprinklers)
  • install sprinklers - (inventory supplies and purchase as needed)
  • trench for backyard lawn edging footing - (mark where I want it)
  • take out cotoneaster
  • low expanding sealant

Sunday?: flash, paper, and screen house to prep for stucco


  • put in garage attic vent
  • scout Seers Lumber as potential glulam supplier and general hardware store
  • make a dump run since the trash man refused to pick up my construction debris.
  • hire out installation of a new electrical box due to requirement to have permit in order to drop the power. Do this after I've installed the French doors completely and before I start on the interior wall teardown. Really should have done this FIRST, since inspector might spot work already done.


Today's DARPA Grand Chalenge email

From the DARPA press release, my emphasis added:
DARPA has established a two-track (track A and track B) system for teams to qualify and compete in the Urban Challenge in order to help accelerate autonomous development. The track A teams will receive from DARPA up to $1 million in technology development funds. Teams must achieve key technical milestones to receive the funds. The track A teams announced today are Autonomous Solutions, Young Ward, Utah; California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, Calif.; Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pa.; Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y.; The Golem Group LLC, Santa Monica, Calif., Honeywell Aerospace Advanced Technology, Minneapolis, Minn.; Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Mass.; Oshkosh Truck Corp., Oshkosh, Wis.; Raytheon, Tucson, Ariz.; Stanford University, Palo Alto, Calif.; and Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, Va.

“We received more than 60 proposals from across the U.S. and the world, representing a broad array of backgrounds and technical approaches,” said Dr. Norman Whitaker, DARPA’s Urban Challenge program manager. “We look forward to working with the track A teams and the teams that submit applications under the track B opportunity as we move towards next year’s Urban Challenge.”
The top three teams that complete the 60-mile course in less than six hours will receive trophies.

I guess the Track A teams have their prize money up front and the Track B teams are in it for trophies and glory. This meshes nicely with the idea that I was discussing the other day that the real prize is having your name associated with a winner. Still, it doesn't feel the same to not be racing for $1 million.

EDIT: Apparently the AP thinks there's a 2 million prize for the winner.


Cascading Home Repair

It's funny how renovations in one area (which you expect to stay confined to that one area) have a way of creeping outward and affecting areas that you're not ready to deal with at all. For example, in order to replace my interior wall with a beam AND keep a functional kitchen, I have to be prepared to move electrical and gas (for the range) hookups on that interior wall to their new locations. The electrical isn't a huge problem at this point, but moving the gas line requires that I also consider how I will maintain gas service in the garage, where it is essential for the gas dryer. Remember that any disruption in kitchen or wash could be really bad with a 3rd grader at home, so it pays to solve these problems before taking the wall down.

The gas in the garage is currently fed from a tee off the kitchen interior wall gas line. So now I have to think about rerouting two gas lines. This requires that I put thought into how the garage will be organized with respect to washer and dryer and I haven't even really considered anything beyond a new garage door.

A flexible gas piping system has experienced some lack of acceptance among local code enforcement so gas lines are still cast iron (“black”) pipe. This is a rigid system and it’s been suggested that it has to be dropped in through a hole in the roof, through a hole in the header plate, into the wall cavity where I want it to reside, through a drilled-out or notched fire block, and out into the room with an elbow+valve. Clearly this is an exercise in careful alignment and long drill extensions. Therefore, I’d rather figure out where I want the gas line in the garage and do this once rather than try to repeat it.

I’d prefer the washer and dryer to be located other than where they now are, but this idea is complicated by the necessity of moving the water supply, sink, and drain lines, not to mention all the garage debris. Did I mention that when you have a slab foundation that it’s quite difficult to move drain lines? I really want the dryer on the far side of the garage so that when it vents, the lint goes into the less traveled side yard (next to the icky neighbors). *blah - scratch this whole idea*

Since I'm using this blog as an exercise in thinking aloud, I expect to change my mind, like I just did.

New better idea: Keep the washer and dryer in their current location (or move just slightly). The lint problem really isn't so bad as I think and it ought to be reduced when I redo the garage door. Actually, it is already reduced due to the new kitchen doors driving foot traffic away from the dryer vent. I’ll also need to at least rotate the garage sink so that it hangs off a different wall, but this can wait and it’s only water supply (the easiest service to change) that would (hopefully) need any changes.

Path forward to demolishing the interior wall: Locate the new kitchen gas supply line where needed. Route the new garage gas line so that it can supply the dryer at or near its current location. Consider carefully whether it’s easier to go through the roof or to remove a 16” wide swath of wall to access the wall cavity.


DARPA Grand Challenge

Back in the money! From an email received today

I guess we are now certain that we have won our full budget request of $1 million from DARPA and will be entering the Urban Grand Challenge on Track "A". (I still wish that DARPA would write us something that plainly says, "Congratulations, you have been awarded $1 million.", but maybe that isn't going to happen.) As other have already said, it is time to get going!

Looking at the schedule, I have a lot of work to do by mid October. For more info see DARPA and the Golem Group site.

Revised Kitchen Plan - Variant III

Now with fridge, range, and sink that are sized correctly according to what I currently own (and considerably smaller than my prior guestimates). I've fine tuned a couple dimensions by an inch or so and added services where I think I'll need them. This view also shows the new French doors (sized and located correctly, but without glass) as well as the entirety of my living room though I've not populated it with furniture. You'll also have to imagine the exposed glulam beam that will replace most of the existing interior wall. Only the short fridge wall will remain from the current interior wall. Ghostly windows in the foreground are the three front windows of the house (guestimated locations).


Kitchen design thoughts / Home improvement list

The coastal breeze formerly blew right through my house from the open front windows to the open kitchen windows (though it did have a bit of a serpentine path). When I found the larger 30" doors that are now in place, I forgot about providing for preservation of that flow of air. Additionally, there's more exposed glass to catch the sun in the AM. As a result, the kitchen gets significantly warmer than I'd prefer. I was able to melt a chocolate bar just yesterday. We have few bugs here, but it would still be nice to have a screened vent opening. My mother wrote to remind me of this and of the need for a cat door as a possible upgrade. We had previously talked about all this.

I know you are always using the windows as air circulation in the kitchen. Will you now use a door? What about flying insects? [What about] BC? (who always wants to come in). I guess this is why the idea of a Santa Barbara window alongside the French doors always appealed to me. This is a vertical window that opens (narrow), same height as the door, with a screen. You used to see it in some older homes in LA.

Juli also noticed that there's a nice place for a cat door now, next to the new door. This is the same place that B.C. used to push through the house paper last night and escape into the yard with his wounded paw.

Thinking aloud...I plan a trellis on the patio area at some point, so that will cut down on the heat gain by shading the doors. Can I make a short counter height screened window? How about a pull down screen on the inside of the doors? A cat door seems like a decent idea - I'll have to check this out. It could easily fit in under the junction box, which is 16" off the foundation.

Kitchen issues
Make an updated drawing in Ikea Home Planner with accurate range and fridge sizes.
Include the living room in IHP since the go forward plan seems to be to remove the connecting wall.
Find space for a microwave
Now's the time to spec a new fridge / range. Counter depth fridge?
Cat door
Move gas line planning
Where to put electrical outlets
Get more specific on cabinets and their fittings

General house issues (incomplete and roughly prioritized)
Finalize door and repair stucco
Get front yard landscaping in "neighbor acceptable" shape
Fix back patio drainage - address with guttering for 50% solution
Get native planting done by mid Fall / early Winter
Termite tenting (December?)
Bathroom rennovation
Paint house - wait for spring?
Replace backyard fence
Vent garage attic
Replace study window with salvaged kitchen window
Improve main house attic access
Central heat / central fresh air - install in attic
Driveway replacement
Garage door replacement


Weekend Quality Time

I've been in a time warp since Friday. I ended up taking the day off to meet two termite inspectors (low bid from local Bateman Termite for $1210, high bid from southern California based Corky's Pest control for $1295), retrieve two doors from the Habitat for Humanity resale shop in Gardena, go to Home De(s)pot for supplies, and lay the groundwork for my weekend adventure. My buddy Warren showed up Friday night and the plan was to hire two laborers Saturday at 7AM and manage them effectively to help accomplish our home improvement tasts: dig the front lawn (done), put in an attic vent (not done), remove a medium sized stump from the back yard (done), and remove two windows (preserved to repair a rotted one elsewhere) and replace with French doors (done, mostly). I think we did a great job.

Sunday at 3ish I said goodbye and thanks to Warren and started cleaning the dust and debris up. My neighbor will be gone next week and I can use his trash cans. Maybe I can get the trash all out the door for free. Since I subsidize everyone else's trash by barely even using the service most of the time, I don't feel any guilt about doing so.

Julio helping Warren demo the window area.

After the doors have been set in place. Note new 4x8 header.

Large pile of grass and dirt are the remnants of the front lawn.

B.C. the cat is gimping around again with his usual Fall time wounded foot pad. I don't know how he does it, but it costs me hundreds last year. He'll go to the vet tomorrow if the soapy bath, betadine rinse, and neosporin that I put on it doesn't improve the tenderness. It's like having another (but uninsured) family member.

Next up: improve Variant II kitchen design with suggestions and knowledge gained this weekend (thanks Warren, Juli, Grace, Maribeth, Mom, Feh, and others).


New doors overtake kitchen

I have decided that my time is better spent putting in some new (to me) doors than in doing a partial job on the interior wall of my kitchen. The doors are necessarily a first step if the wall is to come entirely out, and they have been a stable part of all my kitchen redesigns, so I have confidence that putting them in now is a logical first step. The attic vent and the laborers remain on the to do list for this weekend, along with the doors.

Although I have a pair of French doors, I have always thought that I would prefer to have two matched pair so that I can have one pair out through the kitchen and the other out through my bedroom. It just so happened that I was over at the Habitat for Humanity resale store today at lunch and they had just received three pair of French doors. (Just yesterday at lunch they didn't have these doors.) I bought two pair for about $350 total. What a deal! They have hardware in place and are already hung. HOWEVER, they are framed such that they swing in, instead of out. We'll need to rehang them to make them swing out, so that part of the task remains the same. I need to pick them up by Saturday and I'll need a rental truck to do that since they are big.

They are each 30" wide, so a revised span table calculation for a 60” span is required.

Here are header sizes for walls with no story above, with only exterior wall or 10' tributary load using Douglas Fir
# header:
2-2x4s 4'
2-2x6s 4'6"
2-2x8s 6'8"
2-2x10s 8'10"
2-2x12s 11'

Warren copied this from his Code Check book. It's based on CABO t 602.6 (CABO - Council of American Building Officials 1995). Local codes are usually a combination of CABO and UBC (Uniform Building Code).

The City of Mission Viejo has this to say about header requirements, “Design headers to support all loads imposed on them. A traditional rule of thumb often used to size headers is the "inch per foot" rule which will provide adequate strength in most cases with spans up to eight feet. For headers in single story dwellings supporting no point loads such as posts or beams, provide one inch of header depth for every foot of header length, min. 4 x 4.”

These two design guidelines seem consistent, so I’ll be going with a 4x8 header.

Things to get:
Pick up the two new pairs of French doors (rental truck Friday afternoon)
7.5” wide oak threshold, 5’ long
4x8 Douglas fir header
1x clear pine for door jamb – I’ll need to get 1x10 or x12 in order to cut it to fit my non-standard walls. Three 8’ pieces should do.
Some molding for door stops (Home Depot Friday)
A 4x4 as a header for the attic
New hinges. (Home Depot Friday)
A few more 2x4s (Home Depot)
Expanded metal mesh for stucco (Home Depot Friday)
House paper (Home Depot Friday)
Sill flashing (Home Depot Friday)
Tapered wood shims(Home Depot Friday)
2-1/2" brass screws for hinges (Home Depot Friday)
1-1/2" brass screws for hinges (Home Depot Friday)
self centering drill bit / Vix bit (Home Depot Friday)
Masonry bit and concrete anchors for sill (Home Depot Friday)
1 box each of 8d, 10d, and 16d nails (Home Depot Friday)
New construction junction boxes, indoor and outdoor (Home Depot Friday)

Warren to bring:
Ginder with diamond blade
shop vac
Finish nailer
stucco finishing tools
door & window flashing paper
staple gun & staples
Garden tools for workers (pick, digging bar, shovels)
Table saw & assorted blades including datto blades
framing saw
chop saw
belt sander
palm sander
drill and assorted bits
battery charger for drill/skill saw
Router & bits for possible sill work (I'll explain later)
Gorrila glue
AWG 14 romex
spare electrical boxes



List of Southern California Salvage Yards

This blog post was updated in October, 2009.

See also http://bammorgan.blogspot.com/2008/04/directory-of-salvage-yards.html

I first made this list when I was having trouble finding information on salvage yards. The latest update was about 2005. I've not verified all of them.

Construction and Architectural Salvage - San Diego to Los Angeles Counties
June 20, 2005

Salvage yards seem to have a very low profile on the web.

---San Diego---

Architectural Salvage of San Diego
2401 Kettner Blvd, San Diego, CA 92101
Categories: Antique & Used Architectural Building Materials

EPFO (aka Antique Building Materials)
6152 Wenrich Drive
San Diego, CA 92120
(619) 583-3791
(619) 583-9087 (fax)
Comment: appears high end, imported - BAM

Builders Trading Company
90 N Coast Highway 101
Encinitas, CA 92024
(760) 634-3220

Vintage Architectural
1861 Main Street Suite B, San Diego, CA 92113
(619) 239-7636
Website http://www.vintagearchitectural.com
Categories: Antique & Used Architectural Building Materials
Comments: Home page not easily found on the web. Is it defunct? -BAM 11-2008

Pacific Wholesale Materials
8910 Activity Road, Suite D, San Diego, CA Phone
619-653-0411 Fax
Comments: probably just resawn lumber, but I could be wrong. -BAM


Tony's Architectural Salvage
123 N. Olive
Orange CA 92866
714.538.1900 714.538.1966 (Fax)
Located in Historic Old Towne Orange
55 Freeway - Exit Chapman, go West on Chapman. Proceed around Plaza Circle. Turn Right at Olive.
57 Freeway - Exit Chapman (Orange) proceed East to Olive. Left at Olive.
Was there in 2003 and thought things waaay overpriced, but good quality. BAM

---Los Angeles---

453 South La Brea
Los Angeles, Ca 90036
Comment: as it says in the name - hardware (no doors, etc) -BAM

Architectural Detail
2449 White Street
Pasadena, CA 91107
Tel: 626 844-6670
Comment: ONLINE ONLY. Resource for restorationists consisting of locally salvaged items from the turn of the 19th century to 1960. Stock assorted hardware, doors, windows, lumber, flooring, old glass, bathroom fixtures and accessories, bricks, and roof tiles. Currently occupying 45,000 sq. ft. with recent acquisition of Manchester Sash and Door.

mailing address:
9645 Sylvia Avenue
Northridge, CA 91324
Comment: ONLINE ONLY. "Local buyers may visit the warehouse to pick up what they purchase from us, but most everything we sell is shipped out of the local area. There are many items in the warehouse that are not for sale, and everything is jam packed and jumbled making it impossible to open the warehouse for lookers. Tell us by email what you are looking for, and we will reply with photos and description if we have it.

Antique Stoves
10826 Venice Blvd., #108
Culver City
(310) 287-1910

Big Ten Building Materials & Supplies
757 W. Wood
Altadena, CA 91001
New number (2009) is 626-437-6656
From 210 e. exit winsor go left.
Comment: Sells doors, windows, hardware. Must make an appointment. Unable to easily locate a web page.

Square Deal Plumbing Supplies
2302 E. Florence Ave.
Huntington Park
(323) 587-8291
Comment: Bathtub and toilet fixtures; retrofit old salvaged pieces. ..."Hard to find vintage fixtures and hardware [and] knowledge of how to repair your vintage bathroom fixtures."

Carlos Antique Hardware & Locksmith
620 S. La Brea
Los Angeles
(323) 954-1717
Comment: great collection of old door hardware; repairs

Crown City Hardware Company
1047 North Allen Avenue
Pasadena, California

Mead House Wrecking Co
(626) 796-4051
Comment: sounds like they just do demolition

RWH Construction Salvage
12722 Carmenita Rd.
Santa Fe Springs CA 90670
(562) 698-7250
Comment: Architectural salvage yard? Looks more like architectural deconstruction.-BAM 11-2008

San Gabriel Valley Habitat For Humanity
(626) 792-3838
770 N Fair Oaks Ave Pasadena

Scavenger's Paradise
5453 Satsuma Ave
North Hollywood, CA 91602.
323 877 7945
Have heard good things about this one -BAM

Molina and Son
1210 E 5th St
Los Angeles
Comment: from a note paper scrap. no yellow pages or web info -BAM

The Reuse People
Comment: Bay area based, but LA area partners w/ Habitat for Humanity Gardena and Silverlake yards -BAM

Silverlake Yards:
1086 Manzanita Street
Silver Lake, CA 90026
(323) 667-2875
Hours: Friday, Saturday & Sunday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. by appointment (only? -BAM). Directions: Manzanita Street crosses Sunset Boulevard in Silver Lake. Go south 1 short block and turn right just before Santa Monica Boulevard.

Olde Good Things
1800 South Grand Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90015
213-746-8600 or 8611
213-210-7675 cell
Comment: Appointments only? Looks to be high end and trade only. Presence at SM, Rose Bowl, LB flea markets -BAM

European Reclamation
4524 Brazil St, Los Angeles, California
818 241 2152 Fax 818 547 2734
Comment: no doors on the web site - stone, iron, tile only.

Santa Fe Wrecking Company
1600 South Santa Fe Avenue
Los Angeles, California 90021
8:00 AM - 5:00 PM Monday-Friday
8:00 AM - 3:00 PM Saturdays
9:30 AM - 3:00 PM Sundays
Comment: Was there in 2003 - many doors, but seemed overall poor quality. -BAM

Habitat for Humanity
17700 South Figueroa St.
Gardena, CA 90248
Tues. - Sat. / 9am -6pm

--LA Flea Markets and person to person--


Santa Monica Outdoor Antique & Collectible Market (4th Sunday of the month -- $7 early admission from 6am-8am. Otherwise $5 general admission, seniors $3, kids and dogs free)
Westside Antique Show (smaller show, 1st Sunday of the month 8:30am--3pm. Admission is $4.)
Airport Ave off of Bundy
Los Angeles, CA 90405
(323) 933-2511

Rosebowl Flea Market at the famous Rose Bowl Stadium in Pasedena, CA
The second Sunday of every month

Long Beach Outdoor Antique and Collectible Market, held 5:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. every third Sunday of the month at Veterans Memorial Stadium

The Grove Antique Market at Irvine Valley College, 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. on the first Sunday of the month, (949) 786-5277

Supplementary addition Oct, 2009
The LA Times has a list of Do-it-yourself salvage and supply houses in their Home section today.

The article is titled, "Helpful sites and stores for a home redo" and is located here.

In case the link changes, I'll repeat the article here.

The Home staff has culled recommendations from the architects, interior designers and do-it-yourselfers featured in this section to compile this list of resources for anyone planning to remodel, redecorate or otherwise turn his or her home into a work in progress. A sampling of stores and expert advice you might find helpful:


Fashion District in downtown Los Angeles, the vicinity of 9th and Wall streets, for curtain and drapery fabric.

www.ichiroya.com for Japanese bedding, including futon covers that can be used as bedspreads.

Restoration Hardware Furniture Outlet in Camarillo, (805) 445-7707, for drawer pulls.

Carter Hardware in Beverly Hills, (310) 657-1940, for bronze door hardware.

www.rejuvenation.com for curtain rods and rings.

www.surfaceview.co.uk for murals and oversize artwork, including licensed reproductions from Victoria & Albert Museum and other British art institutions.

Portola Paints and Glazes in Studio City, www.portolapaints.com, for textural paints and lime washes.

Building materials

Metal Window Corp. in Inglewood, www.metalwindowcorp.com, for aluminum windows.

Hermosa Terrazzo in Hermosa Beach, www.hermosati.com, for terrazzo flooring installed on-site.

Anderson Plywood in Culver City, www.andersonplywood.com, for decorative plywood used to make furniture.

Culver City Industrial Hardware, www.culverhardware.com, for rubber furniture wheels.

Tile, flooring

Linoleum City in Hollywood, www.linoleumcity.com, for cork tile.

Orange County Tile in Anaheim, www.orangecountytileco.com, for Mexican Talavera tile.

West Los Angeles Building Materials, www.wlabm.com, for stone flooring.

B&W Tile in Gardena, www.bwtile.com, for affordable floor and wall coverings.

Mortarless Building Supply in Los Angeles, (323) 663-3291, for Mexican tile.

United Team Tile & Stone in Los Angeles, (323) 257-8181, for affordable selections.

Classic Tile & Mosaic in Los Angeles, www.ctandm.com, for its clearance room.


Pasadena Antique Center and Annex, www.pasadenaantiquecenter.com, for the old look.

www.2modern.com for a modern look.

IKEA, www.ikea.com, for pendant lights (textiles and kitchen cabinetry too).

Rewire in L.A., www.rewirela.com, for vintage.


Bobcat Carpet & Fabric Care in West L.A., www.bobcatcarpetcare.com, for binding carpet remnants into area rugs.

Eastern Oriental Rugs in Pasadena, www.easternorientalrugs.com, for the vintage rugs in the back of the store.


Bar Keeper in Silver Lake, www.barkeepersilverlake.com, for cocktail glasses and other retro barware.

Big Lots, www.biglots.com, for basic utensils, glassware and solid-color dishes. (Thank you, Philippe Starck, for the recommendation.)

Cost Plus World Market for beachy rugs, throw blankets and lanterns. (Thank you, Kelly Wearstler.)

Oceanic Arts in Whittier, www.oceanicarts.net, for tiki paraphernalia.

Outdoor decor

www.partylights.com for overhead carnival-style string lights.

California Cactus Center in Pasadena, www.cactuscenter.com, for unusual varieties.

California Nursery Specialties Cactus Ranch in Reseda, www.california-cactus-succulents.com, for more low-water plants (specializes in commercial projects but opens to the public on weekends).

Bourget Brothers in Santa Monica, www.bourgetbros.com, and Sunburst Decorative Rock in Irwindale, www.sunburstrock.com, for decorative garden ground cover.

Rolling Greens nursery in Culver City, www.rollinggreensnursery.com, for oversized pots and realistic-looking artificial plants.

Yan's Gifts & Souvenirs in downtown Los Angeles, (213) 680-3078, for outdoor mats and bamboo umbrellas.

Architectural salvage

Olde Good Things in L.A., www.oldegoodthings.com.

Pasadena Architectural Salvage, www.pasadenaarchitecturalsalvage.com.

Silverlake Architectural Salvage in L.A., www.silverlakearchitecturalsalvage.net.


The Huntington Collection in Pasadena, www.thehuntingtoncollection.com, for the last-Saturday-of-the-month sale.

Furniture House L.A., (323) 461-4703, for retro cabinetry and upholstered furniture.

Retropia in Los Angeles, www.retropia.net, for 1950s and '60s decor.

Floor-Model, www.floor-model.com, for its North Hollywood warehouse's Danish modern bookcases, consoles, tables.

Don & Dee's Old California Store in Ventura, (805) 643-4217.

Thrift stores

St. Vincent de Paul in Los Angeles (also in Oxnard and Long Beach), www.svdpla.org.

Out of the Closet in Tarzana (yes, specifically Tarzana), www.outofthecloset.org.

Council Thrift Store in Los Angeles, www.councilthrift.org.


Advanced Liquidators in North Hollywood, www.advancedliquidators.com, for new and used office furniture.

Alaco Ladder Co. in Chino, (909) 591-7561, for rolling library ladders that make high shelves more functional.

Felt Club, the annual L.A. show for handmade crafts, to be held Nov. 16 at the Shrine Auditorium Expo Center.