Wednesday, March 31, 2010

trapped in paradise

The white bird is unfurling...and there's music in the air...

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Mysterious lights

A string of pathway lights decided to play hookey just as 2 dozen guests were going to be walking around the place for a "marshmallow roast" after sundown. Below is the area where you can spot several of the more than a dozen lights that suddenly went dark.

Checked all the fuses and breakers, so it wasn't that. The lights that went off are on the same switch as 2 dozen more that remained lit, so I deduced (with some help from a smart person)that it had to be a bad wire that was a branch of the (partial) good (bad) circuit. Found the ground box where the circuit branched and identified the good and the bad(both were ugly).

The challenge was to find the link to the first light along that branch and run a new wire to it to see if all the others would blink back on.

After a brief search that seemed as if it was going to be endless and random, I found a splice buried beneath a stepping stone in the middle of a path. The wire had a place bare of insulation, and upon testing continuity between the ground box wire and the unearthed wire, I determined that to be the specific stretch of wire shorting out.

In a short while, I had a trench dug and a new "direct burial" cable directly buried to the splice location from the ground box.

When the wires were connected and the switch thrown, the lights came back on, and the marshmallow roast was saved!

Bird of Paradise spreads her wings

As the days go by, this flower gets bigger and better, and it's cup runneth over.

The ctenanthe blooms again this year as it did last year.

The anthirium (flamingo flower) shows off year round:

Two orchids:

Prayer plant.

We call this the tarantula fern because it's root fronds look like that, but I need to learn it's real name:

A succulent called string of pearls, I think...

Another bloomin' orchid.

Goldfish plant. (Wonder why it's called that;))

Thursday, March 25, 2010

White bird in a golden cage

Do you remember that song by the band It's a Beautiful Day from the sixties? It was a favorite of mine. This white bird of paradise is happy in it's golden cage, blooming indoors for only the second time this century.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

A challenging job...

The house is in it's nineties...and so...are it's pipes. We are expecting a large group for an extended stay. I was expecting there would be some unpleasant troubles, so I asked the local septic service tech to pay a visit with his fiber optic camera on a sewer snake. It's just like a colonoscopy for your house drain. :)

Just above the ceramic hose holder at the top of the photo below is a drain fitting called a "cleanout", which is a threaded cap which permits access to the drain line. Into the opened cleanout he inserted the camera and we watched on the video display a morbidly interesting voyage down to "the end of the line". Along the way we were able to identify several pertinent features, i.e. side-branches of drains coming in to the main, each type, segment and joint of pipe and their condition, incursions of root-masses, etc. At any point, we could stop the camera on it's cable and use another tool he brought that could locate a transmitter mounted on the camera thereby locating it's exact location from above ground and it's depth below grade. The whole process is captured on a narrated dvd now in our possession. Come on over, we'll pop some popcorn and watch a movie!

At the point marked by the slash mark in the dirt at the bottom of that photo is trouble waiting to happen(cue scary music). The camera revealed a root mass and a broken clay pipe. Up to that point the pipe had been cast can tell by the texture of the inside of the pipe.

Next to that big root is buried a cast iron cleanout fitting, followed by a transition to clay pipe for it's next 50 foot traversal under granite wall and stairs on the way to the tank some 100 feet on down the line.

The view from the other direction:

Clay pipe was laid in 2 foot segments with a bell hub at one end; the next piece nesting in the hub and packed around with oakum or some other sealant, the joint then oftentimes overlain with mortar cement. After many years the tiniest root hairs can work their way into the joint and then, once inside the pipe, will metastasize into a thick clump of tangly root fibers. The cypress root that is surfacing like a humpback whale in the photos above lay directly on top of our pipe, is thicker than both my thighs, and considerably denser. It had a curious affinity for our pipe, and had wheedled it's way into the vulnerable joint, and then crushed her in it's grip.

Cast iron seems to have come in 5 foot sections ninety years ago, about the weight one man can manage. Once I had it out of the way, I could get down in the trench myself with seemingly every tool I own or could rent and clawed away at the meanest, orneryest, hardest, stubbornest mass of rock, root, riprap, soil, clay and concrete I think I've ever encountered. Ax, pick, bar, chainsaw, roto-hammer, jackhammer, chisel, hatchet, cut-off saw, skilsaw, sawsall, and grinder...

Every now and then, I'd come up for air and let the dust settle...

The crux of the challenge was getting to the next unbroken segment of clay pipe to which a repair could be attached...which fragile pipe was encased in solid rock & mortar, requiring the utmost tenderness in removal of said rock and mortar the closer I got to the necessary 2 inches of undamaged pipe. The broken segment disappeared under the bottom stone step of a short flight of stairs coming down from the terrace, so it was necessary to cut throught the 6 inch thick stone and remove a section of the 4 foot wide tread...a beautiful piece of rock...

A certain amount of adjacent granite needed to be removed just to bring tools close enough to the pipe to work. As the last day of winter turned into evening, I approached the nub of pipe with a 1/4" rock chisel, a small hammer, and a grinder with a diamond-tipped cutting wheel. Just as I was gaining that first inch, I realized that half the circumference of that inch was cracked through in several places and ready to crumble apart. I carefully peeled off the pieces, which I could see had long been broken because the inner surfaces of the breaks were coated with moist soil, cleaned them with a small brass bristle brush and glued them together and back onto the body of pipe with superglue (cyanoacrylate). For my final step of the day, I wrapped the inside of the pipe with fiberglass mesh tape and slathered it all with a layer of clear epoxy, inside and out.

On the first day of Spring, I was able to continue removing rock and mortar, successfully managing to acquire enough intact pipe to affix repairs to. The epoxy patch had held perfectly. The final stages were the most difficult, due to space and access constraints in the trench, noxious tool noise and dust, and the tenacity of mortar on friable clay pipe. At that point I was simply agog at the whole process, and not the least that it was accomplished so narrowly. Alternatives I won't bother to describe had been playing out in my mind for the previous 12 hours.

The way was now clear to make the repair: the trench was cleaned, the new pipe brought in and cut to size, the repair fittings prepared and all was assembled in a matter of moments:

Below you can see the section of stair tread removed which will be replaced with new grout:

Rock salt is placed around the new repair to discourage roots from seeking out any entry to the pipe.

So, remember: a straight flush always beats a full house!


These two swam towards us as we looked out over the water wondering if we'd see any otters today. They were playful and hungry, and you can see they found themselves some dinner. They swam straight towards us and then went on their way.
Learn more about them:

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Cloud lift to dispel the darkness

The pilaster columns at either side of the service gate were built with conduit in place for the eventual placement of lighting. I've given it some thought from time to time, even to the point of browsing through the catalogs for the appropriate architectural accent for this place. Having done so, I knew it was going to be an expensive proposition to outfit these pilasters with fixtures equal to the calling. It also promised to be a challenge to locate the other end of the conduit tubing and put in the wiring. Consequently, it was easier to put off making a decision to spend time & money on this project while so many other projects clamored for attention, and to let the matter gestate.

The other day, while on a Sunday outing, we spotted a sign for a "huge garage sale", and noticed that it was in our neighborhood, so on the way home we paid a visit. It was a beautiful Craftsman-style home modelled after the Gamble house, up in the hills east of our spot. After perusing the several guitars for sale, I noticed the lamp.
Brand new and never installed, the home-owner was asking about half of it's current retail value, and I recognized instantly that it was perfect for Searock.

The design motif, called 'cloudlift', is a classic Greene & Greene signature.

So the project's time for birthing came to be; I verified the do-ability of the physical installation details, placed an order for a twin fixture for the other pilaster, and installed the lamp.

I located the ground box where the conduit from the pilaster terminated, determined to install a post with a switch to operate the lamp adjacent to the path that was, fortunately, next to the ground box and leading up towards the service yard where the lamp would be located.

In the picture below, the ground box is removed from around the wiring, and a trench has been excavated over to the rock path where the post will be:

In the next picture, the post is prepared with a channel on it's backside to run the wires up to the switch, and with holes for bolting the post to the rock. The channel was later capped with a strip of wood so that there are no wires or conduit exposed.

The finished post with switch.

The installed lamp(s) will provide light for a dark outpost where guests or service people often need illumination, put the finishing touch on the service gate project, and complement the architectural heritage of Searock.

(be sure to click on this pic for a peek at the crescent moon)