Saturday, June 28, 2014

Fixin' Things

I'm a big fan of fixing things.

As I look around my house, there are really more things that have been fixed than things that haven't. Just looking around at my desk there are a pile of fixed things.

I've had this little lamp since high school, but a few years ago its clamp broke. So I drilled a hole and stuck a bolt through it to hold it to the shelf, and it works like a charm.

The headpiece on my nifty cordless headset that I use for long chats with CatMan broke years ago, so I fixed it with my glue gun. It's no longer adjustable, but that's OK... I don't anticipate my head changing size any time soon!

And just a few days ago this antenna (that I got on FreeCycle) fell off the shelf and broke, so I super glued it back together... you can't actually see the repair since the glued part is inside... but it works great!

I'm not quite sure why I'm such a fix-it fanatic. I suppose it's partially because I don't like to spend money... At $8 a piece, patching bike tubes saves me real money over the long haul...

And it's partially to keep things out of landfills. The shade sail that I use for my deck awning still works perfectly even with this hole patched... after someone, ahem, got it tangled with the lawnmower blade and tore it.

And of course, there's the obvious sense of accomplishment. I'm no quilter, but recently I was able to patch a hole in this quilt that a friend made for me 20 years ago.

Then, there's the more, um... neurotic side of my fix-it tendencies. I just have a really, REALLY hard time letting go.

These cutoffs were once my favorite jeans. But after both knees wore out and got patched several times, I turned them into shorts.

But the rear end started to go a few summers ago, so I started adding patches. You can't really tell the degree of my patching craziness until you turn the things inside out:

I know I should probably just let them go... but they're soooo comfy and hey... they still work!

Of course... some things are just beyond repair, or at least they should be! This is a close-up shot of the wheel hub on the new-to-me 16 year old mountain bike that I bought on Craigslist.

Apparently some water got into the bearings and rusted them out. I probably should have just trashed it, but I managed to get it cleaned and re-greased to the point that it's still serviceable. I can probably get a few more years out of the thing before it absolutely has to be replaced.

On some level I think my fixing fanaticism is sort of crazy. I mean really... a whole new wheel for that bike would only cost $25 - I probably spent that much on just the tools to repair it, let alone my time... but now I know how to do it, so I can rebuild the hubs whenever I want to.

Plus... I dunno. The older I get, the more obvious it becomes to me that everything in this world of ours is temporary. Just take a look at my beloved 20 year old Birkenstocks... yup, they've seen better days.

But I just couldn't bear to get rid of them, so I bought some Shoe Goo and voila! I've got my birks back!

I know this will sound a little bit crazy, but every time I fix something, I feel a little bit like I've breathed new life into the world.

Like these fake Birkenstock sandals that I bought 20 years ago, but never wore much because they didn't quite fit right. I was on the verge of taking them off to the thrift store, when I finally realized that only real problem was that the straps were too loose. So I got out my drill and added some new holes so I could buckle them tighter, and now they fit perfectly!

Somehow, it's like with every patch that I sew, and every broken thing that I glue back together, I feel a bit like I am cheating death.  So take that, grim reaper!

So tell me, does anybody else out there get a charge out of fixing things? What have you repaired lately?

Friday, June 20, 2014

Poor Man's Deck Awning

My house has a deck in back. This is a bit of a mixed blessing.

When I first bought the house, the deck that was there had fallen down so the house had a sliding glass door that opened onto an 8 foot drop - just one of the many reasons I was able to buy it for a bargain price!

Anyhow, my best friend's brother is a contractor and since he owed her a favor, she transferred said favor to me and he designed and built me a deck for free... all I had to pay for was the materials. At the time I was uber-broke so I opted for plain pine lumber, promising myself I'd refinish it each summer...

Suffice it to say that a few years ago I had to have the decking re-done using a composite material called Trex. I have to say, it's pretty amazing stuff. Made from upcycled sawdust and plastic bags it still looks as beautiful as it did when it was installed in 2008 with not a shred of effort on my part. But I digress...

So, the deck faces west, which is great in the wintertime because I can open the curtains on the sliding glass door and the afternoon sun warms the house wonderfully. I can even enjoy some nice sunshine on the occasional warm winter day:

Not sure if you can see the snow in the background,
but this photo was taken in January

However, what is a blessing in the winter quickly becomes a curse as the temperatures start to rise.

It's actually not as bad as it used to be since the trees have matured a bit and provide at least some shade, but still, when the afternoon sun shines in the sliding glass door my little house really starts to cook, and even keeping the blinds shut only helps a tiny bit.

I looked into buying an actual retracting awning for the deck, but holy moly! Those things are NOT cheap. But then one day my neighbors had a backyard party and they put up something called a sun sail. It looked something like this, though their installation was not nearly so fancy schmancy.

When my neighbor told me that it cost only $35, the gears in my brain started to churn... Perhaps I could rig one to the side of the house and use it as a make-shift awing of sorts... something like this:

So I found one online for $40 that was the right size and hooked it to the eves using eye screws and carabiners, which worked fabulously:

Now all I had to do was figure out what to attach the two outside corners to. And here's where the difficulty began. You see... unlike the house in the picture, my deck is not at ground level, and the idea of installing 25-30 foot poles to attach it to seemed... well... it seemed like more of a project than I was really up for.

So my first attempt was to use ropes and tie the corners to tree branches. This was... um... well... let's say it was a bit of an adventure. I'm not great with ladders and heights to begin with, and in order to get the thing even close to high enough, I had to climb WAAAAY up in the trees.

The entire time I was on the ladder I was murmuring to myself "Please, God, just let me live through this." Now, I'm not actually a Christian... more of an "armchair Buddhist" so I don't technically believe in a sentient God... but that didn't stop me from praying on that particular occasion!

Anyhow, I finally got through with the worst one, and climbed down only to discover that I'd somehow managed to string the rope through the rungs of the ladder and had to climb up there to do the whole thing over again. ARRRRRGGGGGHHHH!!

Alas, I don't have any photos to commemorate that moment, but suffice it to say, my best efforts still left a bit to be desired:

So I decided that I needed something to shore it up with, and the next summer I took some old 2x4's that I had in the garage, painted them to match the deck, and attached a fence railing to the top to make something to help hold the sucker up.

But... when the time came to climb back up into the trees to attach the ends... well... let's just say that the memory of the ladder experience inspired me to come up with plan B!

Can you see the second set of pole-holders about a foot down from the ones holding the fence pole? My original intent was to install 2 bars and loop the thing under and around, using ropes to attach the far corners back under the eves where the carabiners are. But as I was installing it, I had a stroke of genius, and decided that all I really had to do was tie the corners down to the bottom of the deck like this:

It doesn't have the nice finished look that I originally imagined, but it certainly does a better job of blocking the hot afternoon sun, and it was much, MUCH easier to put up!

This year, I made one final improvement, and attached a second set of eye screws to the 2x4's so I could use carabines to attach the corners instead of ropes:

And voila! Here it is... my beautiful improvised deck awning:

OK... so it's not gonna win any awards for home and garden design, but it makes an enormous difference in the comfort level of the house, and I'm sure it's more than paid for itself in reduced cooling costs - the total cost of all the materials was much less than $100.

Even in the worst of the afternoon sun, it provides enough shade to keep the sun from shining in the sliding glass door, and it just makes the deck feel more private and enjoyable:

So there you have it! So... has anybody else out there ever used a sun sail? I'd love to hear how you attached yours...

Monday, June 16, 2014

The View From My Bike

I fear I haven't been very diligent about posting recently, but I've been busy riding my rear end off! Seriously, CatMan and I have been riding an average of 2-3 rides per week, each one 45-50 miles. Anyhow, it hasn't left me with a lot of time or energy for much else, not that I'm complaining, mind you!

So I figured I'd post a few photos of our rides over the past few weeks, so you might get a small taste of the bliss I've been enjoying!

First of all, this is my beloved bike path. This is my "meet up" spot with CatMan where our many adventures begin:

Bike Trail along the South Platte River in Denver
The South Platte trail is the main "artery" of our greenway system. The river is running VERY high right now because the mountains got an incredible amount of snow this past winter and now it's all melting. Add to that the very wet and rainy spring we've had and well... let's just say we've had to wade through some river water in a few spots!

There's been a lot of wildlife out on the trails recently, but alas, the animals tend to be quicker than my camera is, so I haven't gotten many good shots. But there were two young deer hanging out by the path last week who were remarkably tame, so I got a good shot of one of them.

Aside from the deer we've seen foxes and coyotes (more on that later) as well as the standard squirrley squirrels, "foofers" (cottontail rabbits) and "meepers" (prairie dogs). We've also rescued a few garter and bull snakes from certain "squishitude" as they were sunning themselves on the path.

One of our favorite destinations is Chatfield State park which is the southern most point of the South Platte bike trail.

Chatfield Lake - which is really a reservoir
I've been obsessed with finding a route that goes all the way around the reservoir, but alas, it doesn't seem to exist. But the adventures have been fun, and the scenery is beautiful:

The Swim Beach at Chatfield
Prairie south of Chatfield looking toward Waterton Canyon
A random old cottonwood tree that I liked

Another of our favorite destinations is to head west up Bear Creek toward Red Rocks and the town of Morrison. That was our destination today and it was a beautiful ride, though I have to say the uphill section is a long hard slog. There's about 700 feet of elevation gain over about 7 miles to get to the top of Dinosaur Ridge, and while that wouldn't be too bad if it was a steady slope, it's more of a rolling up and down sort of thing with some seriously difficult "ups!"

By the time we got to the top of Dinosaur Ridge I really thought I was gonna keel over from a coronary. It didn't help that some spry young racer fellow zipped past me like I was standing still. Sigh. Anyhow, when we got to the top CatMan took pity upon me and we stopped for a rest and a geology lesson.

Rocks at the top of Dinosaur Ridge
Sorry the photo is blurry, but I wanted you to see the bizarre round thing in the rocks. CatMan was teasing me saying it was a dinosaur egg, but apparently it's a sandstone formation known as a "concretion."

Anyhow, from this point there was only one more big hill left through Red Rocks Park - so I guess when you factor that in, it's about an 800 foot elevation gain, but there is a nice downhill rest before you get to Red Rocks.

Red Rocks Park seen from the top of Dinosaur Ridge
I don't know if you can see it in this photo or not, but if you look in the foreground near the center of the picture you can see a tan colored house. Some dear friends of mine live there, and that's where we had the reception after my mom's memorial service.

Anyhow, from Red Rocks we rode through the little town of Morrison and then up and over the Bear Creek Dam (OK, I lied, that's another pretty big hill) and then we cruised home on the Bear Creek bike path.

So there's a place where the bike path goes through a big prairie dog colony, and the little guys were "meeping" up a storm today! Seriously, they were all sending out their little warning call so I figured something must be up. Then I saw what looked like three big gray dogs running through the field, only as I got closer I saw that they were actually coyotes who were apparently there for a little snack - which explains why the prairie dogs were freaking out!

I tried to take a photo, but coyotes run pretty fast, so here's what I got:

What? You don't see the coyotes? Actually you can't even tell that this is a prairie dog colony from this picture! Well, if you look just to the left of the pole in the center of the shot there are three tiny gray dots, and those are the coyotes - I fear you'll have to take my word on this one!

Anyhow... that's what I've been up to. What have y'all been doing with yourselves? I hope everybody has found a way to enjoy the beautiful late spring/early summer!

Monday, June 2, 2014

Educational Television

So, it would appear that I've been sucked into a vortex of sorts.

I'm blaming this one squarely on Debbie, who recently posted about studying Spanish.

You see... CatMan and I have been studying Spanish together for nearly 20 years now. It's been so long that I can't even remember how or why we got started - but it's something we both enjoy very much.

Over the years we've done lots of things En Español, including reading books together, studying grammar, learning songs in Spanish, and, or course, watching the Spanish language television stations.

CatMan likes to watch the news in Spanish as well as the variety shows.

But the ones that always suck me in are the telenovelas - and none more so than one made around 20 years ago called Corazón Salvaje.

So when Debbie asked about how people have gone about studying Spanish, I mentioned the show, and went to see if I could find a clip on YouTube. And lo and behold... I found that someone had posted the entire series up there.

So naturally, I've had to watch the entire thing... all 80 episodes. And I'm ashamed to admit that when I was done... I had to start all over from the beginning. Because, you know, there might have been a few words that I missed in there, and this is, ahem, a purely educational endeavor!

Seriously, it has NOTHING to do with Eduardo Palomo who plays Juan del Diablo.

RIP Eduardo Palomo - the actor died suddenly and unexpectedly in 2003 from a heart attack.

It also has nothing to do with the steamy love scenes between Juan and Monica.

Seriously though, I'm not sure what exactly it is about this particular show that gets to me, but I just LOVE it. It's a sordid tale of love and betrayal between two brothers and two sisters.

This particular version (the story has been the basis for several movies and more than one telenovela) is set around the turn of the century in a small village on the Mexican coast near Veracruz.

And eye candy notwithstanding, I just love the entire ambiance of the production.

There's just something quiet about it all... the tropical setting, in a time before cars and telephones and televisions and radios and all sorts of noise making devices.

People travel by carriage or horseback.

People walk to the markets to do their shopping carrying their goods home in a basket.

And people live in these wonderful adobe houses that feel quiet and cool just looking at them.

I dunno... just imagining living in that world sorta makes some part of me unwind on a fundamental level.

Of course... it wasn't all romance and palm leaves back then. There's also the fact that people regularly died from things like falling off of horses or infections, or childbirth.

And, there's the enormous societal inequity...

And if you were a woman, your choices were to get married, be a servant, be a prostitute, enter the convent... and that's about it.

And seriously, can you imagine having to wear a corset... in a tropical climate no less?

But don't bother me with the facts, I'm busy enjoying my irrational glorification of a bygone era! Besides... this is a purely, ahem, linguistic study.

Now, if you'll pardon me, I seem to feel the vortex of episode 16 sucking me in...

So how about you? Do you ever have an irrationally rosy picture of what the past must have been like?