Birthday boy

Jacquela wants Steven to ride more. So, for his birthday, she gifted him this computer — mapping, route guides, heartbeat monitoring, cadence monitoring, and a lot more.

Personal observation — I am the oldest living male Leon. The generations before me are gone. The generation behind me is beginning to marry, or, in the case of Jadin, the youngest of her generation, navigating through high school. It is odd to be this old, to be not that old, to be me. Give me a sunny day and a bicycle to pedal. Namaste.

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Hacked By Unknown

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Remaking the back yard

After mucking out the back yard, Victor and Francisco pivot, putting in place the cleaned up, organized landscaping that Steven, Jacquela, Jadin and Adobe will need to put the back yard to use.

There’s a truckload of gravel for drainage and mulch.
Victor considers what comes next. Already, he and Francisco emplaced metal edging, weed block fabric, and began covering the weed block with gravel from the truckbed. The gravel ensures drainage around the posts of the fence in the neighbor’s yard — water needs to be able to flow away from the wood, not stand in place and rot it. And insects like termites can’t eat rock mulch. The piles of rock are temporary — Victor will use these to create a “rock garden” across the mulch beds. The rocks were left behind when we blew out a section of the back yard to build the new garage bay. The bare metal fence posts are left behind from the old, rotten, bug-ridden cedar fence that Austin Bros. Fencing removed earlier. One of Steven’s goals is to eliminate as much as possible anything termites might eat.
This is the northeast corner of the house at Jadin’s bedroom — finally cleared of the plastic shed left behind by a previous owner. Victor cleaned out weeds and added more gravel, after laying out a line of brick left behind from demo of parts of the house.
This is where we moved the plastic shed to — the far back at the northeast corner of the lot, sitting atop a fresh bed of gray gravel. Steven will move the wheelbarrow and other gardening tools into the shed — along with the dog agility equipment on his list of projects to build.
180 degrees to the right of the shed — the metal poles that supported the old, bug-infested fence that Austin Bros. ripped out; the new gates that Austin Bros. installed, and what might serve as a parking spot, if needed, behind the garage. Steven has ideas for a Japanese-style rock garden.
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Weekends of projects

In addition to building the desks for his office, with help from Jacquela, Steven has been punching out multiple projects over several weekends.

In the laundry/utility room, Steven mounted two old Ikea cabinets to the wall, cut and painted a shelf to run between the two cabinets, along with a hanging rod. The rolling laundry carts that Jacquela ordered arrived; she assembled one, Steven assembled two -- and organization began to arrive.
In the laundry/utility room, Steven mounted two old Ikea cabinets to the wall, cut and painted a shelf to run between the two cabinets, along with a hanging rod. The rolling laundry carts that Jacquela ordered arrived; she assembled one, Steven assembled two — and organization began to arrive.
Also in the laundry room, Steven ordered and installed the "FloodStop." This electronic device comes with a sensor to put under the washing machine. If it gets wet, it sounds a loud alarm and shuts off water to the washing machine by closing two electronic valves. Why do this? The washing machine is located on the second floor -- and a leak will cascade through the walls and floor to flood the first floor of the house.
Also in the laundry room, Steven ordered and installed the “FloodStop.” This electronic device comes with a sensor to put under the washing machine. If it gets wet, it sounds a loud alarm and shuts off water to the washing machine by closing two electronic valves. Why do this? The washing machine is located on the second floor — and a leak will cascade through the walls and floor to flood the first floor of the house.
The FloodStop sensor is the circuit board in the pan under the washing machine. There's also a "waterbug," the white device partially obscured by the gray overfill hose; this connects to the house alarm system. As a result, there are now TWO systems to warn against washer leaks. Belt. Suspenders.
The FloodStop sensor is the circuit board in the pan under the washing machine. There’s also a “waterbug,” the white device partially obscured by the gray overfill hose; this connects to the house alarm system. As a result, there are now TWO systems to warn against washer leaks. Belt. Suspenders.
The two electronically-controlled valves that shut off water to the washing machine if the FloodStop sensor gets wet. This was a relatively simple install in a very cramped space, even with the washing machine pulled away from the wall.
The two electronically-controlled valves that shut off water to the washing machine if the FloodStop sensor gets wet. This was a relatively simple install in a very cramped space, even with the washing machine pulled away from the wall.
Over several weekends, Steven unpacked old Ikea cabinets from Jacquela's craft room at Sea Eagle, mounting them to the walls in her craft room at Emerald Hill. The rolling cabinets on the floor are still wrapped in plastic, so Jacquela has been using the floor and nearly every surface for her projects.
Over several weekends, Steven unpacked old Ikea cabinets from Jacquela’s craft room at Sea Eagle, mounting them to the walls in her craft room at Emerald Hill. The rolling cabinets on the floor are still wrapped in plastic, so Jacquela has been using the floor and nearly every surface for her projects.
Two hard drives in the Network-Attached Storage devices in the electronics closet failed in the past two months. Highly unusual. Steven believes it is trapped heat -- there's no place for the hot air from the electronics to exist the closet, unless we leave the door cracked open, creating a walking hazard in the central hall upstairs. Steven installed two vents -- one at the top of the closet, one at the bottom. Hot air rises and drafts. The lower vent pulls in cooler air from Jacquela's hobby room next door. The upper vent moves the hot air out of the closet into the hobby room, which is connected to the HVAC system. The hard drives in the closet are now running two to five degrees cooler. This will be watched ...
Two hard drives in the Network-Attached Storage devices in the electronics closet failed in the past two months. Highly unusual. Steven believes it is trapped heat — there’s no place for the hot air from the electronics to exit the closet, unless we leave the door cracked open, creating a walking hazard in the central hall upstairs. Steven installed two vents — one at the top of the closet, one at the bottom. Hot air rises and drafts. The lower vent pulls in cooler air from Jacquela’s hobby room next door. The upper vent moves the hot air out of the closet into the hobby room. The HVAC system takes care of ventilating the hobby room. The hard drives in the closet are now running two to five degrees cooler. This will be watched … And, yes, Steven has to still organize all the network cables.
Out in the garage, the "wet wall" behind the utility sink that the plumbers have not yet installed is nearly complete. Steven cut and glued a sheet of plastic to the wall with Jacquela's help. He cut waterproof PVC "plastic lumber" to size and the glued and nailed the baseboard, stiles and top rail into place, puttied over the nail holes, sealed the joints with silicone. All that's left is a little sanding and painting. And then the plumbers can come back in to install the water and drain lines, and the sink.
Out in the garage, the “wet wall” behind the utility sink that the plumbers have not yet installed is nearly complete. Steven cut and glued a sheet of plastic to the wall with Jacquela’s help. He cut waterproof PVC “plastic lumber” to size and the glued and nailed the baseboard, stiles and top rail into place, puttied over the nail holes, sealed the joints with silicone. All that’s left is a little sanding and painting. And then the plumbers can come back in to install the water and drain lines, and the sink.
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A sprinkler saga, episode 4

Mikel and Darynn returned to Emerald Hill to continue resurrecting the sprinkler system.

This 1 December episode focuses on bringing all of the front yard zones to life.

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At the buried valve that he unburied, Mikel trenched for a new lateral line needed to supply a run of dripline at the curb in front of the house. He’s directing Darynn, who is outside the shot.

Mikel begins to cover the repaired and new sprinkler lines.
At the front walk, Mikel digs out a lateral line that was severed by the form used to construct the concrete pads.
Mikel cut the severed line cleanly to add a new elbow and flexible water line that he ran out to the sprinkler head that was cut off from water when the water line was severed.
Working under one of the concrete walkway pads, Mikel cut the severed line cleanly to add a new elbow and flexible water line that he ran out to the sprinkler head that was cut off from water when the water line was severed.
This is the main dig in the front yard where the plumbers originally severed the sprinkler lines when they trenched to install the new water supply line between the house and city water supply at the curb. Valve 1 is the valve that the plumbers buried under several inches of dirt -- discovered by Mikel when he explored for leaks in episodes 1, 2 and 3. Valve 2 is a new valve that supplies water to the new drip zone along the curb. Inside housing 3 is a dripline pressure regulator.
This is the main dig in the front yard where the plumbers originally severed the sprinkler lines when they trenched to install the new water supply line between the house and city water supply at the curb.
Valve 1 is the valve that the plumbers buried under several inches of dirt — discovered by Mikel when he explored for leaks in episodes 1, 2 and 3.
Valve 2 is a new valve that supplies water to the new drip zone along the curb.
Inside housing 3 is a dripline pressure regulator.
After about an hour of testing all possible wiring configurations, Darynn, who is studying to be an engineer, concluded that there is a cut in the wire that cannot be located -- and the only way to electrically open and close valves is to install an Add-A-Wire device that enables the controller in the garage to "multiplex" different signals to different valves while using the same control wires. This little widget adds $200+ to the cost of the day's gig. The alternative is several hours of manual trenching to run a new wire from the garage, to every valve, from the back of the house to the front.
After about an hour of testing all possible wiring configurations, Darynn, who is studying to be an engineer, concluded that there is a cut in the wire that cannot be located — and the only way to electrically open and close valves is to install an Add-A-Wire device that enables the controller in the garage to “multiplex” different signals to different valves while using the same control wires. This little widget adds $200+ to the cost of the day’s gig. The alternative is several hours of manual trenching to run a new wire from the garage, to every valve, from the back of the house to the front.
Darynn wires in the Add-A-Wire device.
Darynn wires in the Add-A-Wire device.
Mikel shifts a spray head from the curb at the street about eight feet back and into the lawn, where it can reach the grass, instead of spraying water into what will be a new planting bed that will be served by dripline.
Mikel shifts a spray head from the curb at the street about eight feet back and into the lawn, where it can reach the grass, instead of spraying water into what will be a new planting bed that will be served by dripline.

To be continued.

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A sprinkler saga, episode 3

In the 30 November installment of the sprinkler saga, Mikel from Green Tree Professional returned to continue resurrecting the sprinkler system from construction damage. He blocked six hours, believing most if not all of the damage was already identified and repaired. His goal was to begin redesigning the system to cut off lateral lines and sprinkler heads along the front of the house where planting beds no longer exist, and to lay out new drip lines to water the oaks in the front yard and planting beds that will be added to Emerald Hill.

Mikel unspooled several hundred feet of drip line.
Mikel unspooled several hundred feet of drip line.
He looped some of the drip line around one of the oaks and into what will be a planting bed.
He looped some of the drip line around one of the oaks and into what will be a planting bed.
He looped the drip line around more of the oaks.
He looped the drip line around more of the oaks.
He continued around a cluster of oaks near the driveway.
He continued around a cluster of oaks near the driveway and in front of the new privacy fence.
He laid out a drip line that Steven will use for a future planting bed at the side of the deck at the kitchen side of the house.
He laid out a drip line that Steven will use for a future planting bed at the side of the deck at the kitchen side of the house.
He looped the dripline around a cluster of oaks behind the new privacy fence.
He looped the dripline around a cluster of oaks behind the new privacy fence.
And he deployed several parallel runs of dripline across what will be new planting beds along the front curb.
And he deployed several parallel runs of dripline across what will be new planting beds along the front curb.

With the driplines laid out and staked down, Mikel switched on the water and activated the zones at the controller, to test the system.

He discovered a broken line that no one knew existed at the end of the new fence line up the driveway. Water streamed from a severed lateral line that was buried under several inches of mulch. He extracted from under the mulch a brass spigot attached to what was the end of the severed pipe. Mikel cut the pipe clean and capped it.

With that line fixed, Mikel switched the system back on — and there was now enough water pressure in the line to reveal four sprinkler heads buried under the mulch around the oaks behind the new fence. He removed the heads and capped the line. And … if we had known this run of sprinklers existed, he could have used it to supply the dripline around the trees — coulda woulda shoulda but too late now.

Next, Michael slit-trenched the new control wires into the ground between a valve  at the walkway and the valve that the plumbers buried.
Next, Michael slit-trenched the new control wires into the ground between a valve at the walkway and the valve that the plumbers buried.

To be continued …

 

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A sprinkler saga, episode 2

Mikel from Green Tree Professional returned 18 November to Emerald Hill to continue identifying problems with and repairing the sprinkler system.

With the system operable after the first repairs were made 11 November, Mikel focused in the front yard on repairing the main supply line to the sprinklers that was cut by the plumbers when they installed a new water line between the house and the city water supply at the curb.

As he dug, Mikel discovered that the main supply line for the sprinklers was cut -- pipe in left circle. The plumbers also cut two  lateral lines. Mikel has already repaired one of the laterals in this photo. The second cut is the PVC pipe in the right circle.
As he dug, Mikel discovered that the main supply line for the sprinklers was cut — pipe in left circle. The plumbers also cut two lateral lines. Mikel has already repaired one of the laterals in this photo. The second cut is the PVC pipe in the right circle.
While working on the pipes, Mikel discovered that the plumbers buried a control valve. He excavated to reveal the valve.
While working on the pipes, Mikel discovered that the plumbers buried a control valve. He excavated to reveal the valve. The plumbers also severed the control wire that runs between this valve and the next valve in line. Mikel could not locate the cut in the wires, so he opted to run new wires across the lawn to the connect the two valves.

After repairing the cuts, Mikel began testing the front sprinkler zones. He quickly discovered a lateral line that was cut when the front walk was formed — water burbled up from under one of the concrete steps.

The good news was … At least two front zones operated, even if they needed additional repairs.

It was time for Mikel to depart to his next scheduled appointment.

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A sprinkler saga, episode 1

When Ranserve excavated the foundation for the new garage bay, the concrete crew cut and buried the end of the 12-strand cable that runs between the control unit location in the garage, out to the valves that control the sprinklers in the back yard, along the PVC pipes that were buried in the ground when a previous owner installed the sprinkler system, and out to the valves and sprinkler heads in the front yard.

Ron Dahlke did try to protect the cable, but bobcats, picks, shovels and form boards are brutal.

Ron, Odell, Kevin and Matt dug exploratory holes in the back yard after the garage was built — and they did find the cable.

But it had been severed — and a section about 20 feet long was missing.

Odell asked Steven to have a sprinkler company do the repair.

Steven collected four estimates. Two companies advised it would be easier and faster to install an entirely new system at a cost of somewhere beyond $4,000 to $5,000. Two companies recommended repairs at $95 an hour, plus parts, with about three hours required to diagnose whether the system could be repaired.

Steven selected Mikel and Darynn Eggert, the two brothers who run Green Tree Professional. Yes, Steven gravitates toward working with family businesses and brothers — see the fence postings as further evidence.

In episode 1 of the sprinkler saga, dated 11 Nov. 2016, Darynn and Mikel excavated the cut end of the control cable buried in the ground about feet away from the back of the new garage, patched it to new wire, and attempted to pull that wire into the garage through conduit that was fixed into place when the concrete slab of the new garage floor was poured.

First discovery — it is impossible to force heavy-duty 12-strand irrigation wire through a tight 90-degree elbow when you don’t have a heavy-duty pull cord.

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The concrete team installed electrical conduit when they formed and poured the new slab for the garage. The sprinkler control wire was supposed to travel through the conduit. But, the wire can’t be pulled through the tight elbow identified in the lower circle in photo, at the concrete foundation. Steven approved drilling through the siding — the second, higher circle in the red-painted siding. Note the missing chunk of concrete walk that was cut out when the garage slab was excavated — this has to be replaced. Darynn and Mikel ran a temporary control wire above ground, with which they were able to begin testing the sprinkler system.

After much discussion, Steven permitted Darynn and Mikel to drill a hole through the exterior siding of the garage above ground level, with a plan to shield the cable in new conduit that would be mounted to the exterior of the siding outside the garage, turned down to the ground in a WIDE 90-degree elbow, then buried and run out across the back yard to connect with the old existing cable.

Except … Ranserve still has to replace a chunk of concrete walk that was cut out when the garage foundation was formed and poured. The new wire out the back of the garage traverses this missing concrete, so permanent installation is not possible until the concrete work is done.

The temporary control wire travels about 20 feet across the back yard to where the original exiting wire was severed.
The temporary control wire travels about 20 feet across the back yard to where the original exiting wire was severed.
Darynn and Mikel made waterproof connections between the new and old control wires. The trench at right is where Mikel discovered the open end of a sprinkler line that was severed during construction of the garage. He cut off the knife edge of the PVC and capped it off.
Darynn and Mikel made waterproof connections between the new and old control wires. The trench at right is where Mikel discovered the open end of a sprinkler line that was severed during construction of the garage. He cut off the knife edge of the PVC and capped it off.

So, Mikel and Darynn ran the wire into the garage, temporarily loose and above ground, connected it to the sprinkler controller in the back yard, turned on water to the sprinkler system, powered up the controller — and began experimenting to discover leaks.

Second discovery — the system still worked. In some places.

Third discovery — in the front yard, the plumbers severed  the main supply line to the sprinkler system when they trenched the front yard to install the new water supply line to the house as required by the city. Did the plumbers repair the sprinkler line as requested by Steven? Apparently, obviously, not.

 

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Taking down the dying magnolia

There’s a magnolia in the northwest corner of the front yard, near the street, that is dying. It’s been dying for a long time. The crown is bare of leaves and the wood is brittle, sometimes breaking away in strong winds.

Steven hired Victor to muck out the back yard and take down the magnolia; it was textbook This Old House.

Several neighbors chatted as they walked past, as Victor took down the magnolia. Everyone was happy to see it go — it’s not native to Austin. The oaks will draw more water and light.

Here’s a photo essay.

Victor begins by trimming away as many low-hanging branches as he can reach, focusing on the middle of trunk, where several low-hanging limbs stretch widest, creating the most hazard.
Victor begins by trimming away as many low-hanging branches as he can reach, focusing on the middle of trunk, where several low-hanging limbs stretch widest, creating the most hazard. The magnolia still has green leaves in this middle range, but the crown is denuded, dead.
With the magnolia prepped, Victor cuts a series of wedges into the trunck, near the ground. The wedges take out a slice of wood in the direction he wants the tree to fall when it is cut and finally topples.
With the magnolia prepped, Victor cuts a series of wedges into the trunck, near the ground. The wedges take out a slice of wood in the direction he wants the tree to fall when it is cut and finally topples. Victor is wearing a dust mask and safety glasses.
After cutting away the wedges that are now opposite the camera, Victor used his chain saw to cut into the trunk at the side of the tree facing the camera. In the street, Victor and his brother Francisco pull taut a rope tied high around the tree that they will use to topple the tree.
After cutting away the wedges that are now opposite the camera, Victor used his chain saw to cut into the trunk at the side of the tree facing the camera. In the street, Victor and his brother Francisco pull taut a rope tied high around the tree that they will use to topple the tree.
First pull. The trunk snaps and begins to lean.
First pull. The trunk snaps and begins to lean.
Leaning.
Leaning.
Leaning.
Leaning.
The point of no going back.
The point of no going back.
Toppling.
Toppling.
The first branch touches ground.
The first branch touches ground.
Crash.
Crash. Actually more like a dull thunk. Anticlimactic.
Cutting down the tree exposes just how close it was to dying. The center of the trunk is soft, with no structure. The black ring indicates the division between live wood around the circumference and dead wood at the heart of the tree.
Cutting down the tree exposes just how close it was to dying. The center of the trunk is soft, with no structure. The black ring indicates the division between live wood around the circumference and dead wood at the heart of the tree.
The crown landed precisely where Victor planned -- on Dale's driveway next door. She was OK with the mess and taking out the tree, because she didn't want it toppling in a storm. Victor and Francisco quickly cleaned up the mess. All this wood from the crown of the magnolia was dead, brittle. It crumbled and snapped in our hands.
The crown landed precisely where Victor planned — on Dale’s driveway next door. She was OK with the mess and taking out the tree, because she didn’t want it toppling in a storm. Victor and Francisco quickly cleaned up the mess. All this wood from the crown of the magnolia was dead, brittle. It crumbled and snapped in our hands.
An example of how dead the crown of the tree was -- the main trunk just snapped away on its own as it hit the ground.
An example of how dead the crown of the tree was — the main trunk just snapped away on its own as it hit the ground.
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Mucking out the back yard

With sprinkler repairs underway, with the fences and gates erected to create a safe yard for Adobe to burn off crazy-puppy calories while attempting to keep the deer out, Steven asked Victor to haul the trash out of the back yard.

Steven and Victor have done this before. Victor and his team installed part of the landscaping at Sea Eagle, and tackled specific jobs at Emerald Hill during construction.

Now we create a clean slate at Emerald Hill.

When Jacquela and Steven bought Emerald Hill, the back yard was not a priority — saving the house from itself was where we focused.

Previous owners used the back yard as a storage yard for broken tree limbs, old dog toys, an old telephone system wiring box, detritus, cast offs. The sage, lantana and other plants were old, tired, thready. Volunteer hackberries had taken root, making the northeast corner dark, dumping leaves. Lumber used for edging around what purported to be planting beds was rotting away.

Victor and his brother Francisco set to work saving the back yard, racing against approaching rain.

Victor and Francisco have already chopped out an old, thready sage.
Victor and Francisco have already chopped out an old, thready sage. They trimmed lower branches off a bush that the deer would come into the back yard to eat, raising the canopy high enough that the deer can’t reach the lower limbs. The lantana at left is next to go, as are the two hackberry trees that volunteered to grow in the back corner to the left of the telephone pole.
A previous owner used timbers to edge the planting beds. Not a good idea -- fine dining for termites.
A previous owner used timbers to edge the planting beds. Not a good idea — fine dining for termites.
This is what timber used as edging looks like after years of lying in the ground feeding generations of termites.
This is what timber used as edging looks like after years of lying in the ground feeding generations of termites.
More bug-infested, rotted and rotten lumber, coming out, going away.
More bug-infested, rotted and rotten lumber, coming out, going away. The pile of rocks will be used as part of the landscaping when Victor moves this project past demo and into development.
Victor lines the cleaned out bed with brick left over from demo and construction of the house. This gets the brick off the driveway and puts it to constructive use.
Victor lines the cleaned out bed with brick left over from demo and construction of the house. This gets the brick off the driveway and puts it to constructive use.
Francisco rakes new gravel atop the old gravel at the north side of the house, creating a deep layer that we hope retards weed growth. The plastic shed sat atop the gravel. It will be relocated to the northeast corner, where the hackberries have been hacked out.
Francisco rakes new gravel atop the old gravel at the north side of the house, creating a deep layer that we hope retards weed growth. The plastic shed sat atop the gravel. It will be relocated to the northeast corner, where the hackberries have been hacked out.
Francisco begins rolling out landscape fabric that will go into gravel bed along the back fence. The gravel provides drainage. The weed block blocks weeds -- we hope.
Francisco begins rolling out landscape fabric that will go into gravel bed along the back fence. The gravel provides drainage. The weed block blocks weeds — we hope.

And then the rains came.

To be continued.

 

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