Friday, June 27, 2008

Split and Burn... going, going, almost gone

The last time I wrote about the tree, this is how it looked… and it looked just that way for two weeks. (I mowed the lawn around it several times.)

Then last weekend (June 21) Jay rented a wood splitter for 4 hours, a "half-day", thinking he'd finish splitting up the rest of the tree. He hoped, but didn't know for sure, that he'd have help from Amon and or Nathan. As it worked out, they were both there to help…. As it didn't work out, it took much longer than the four hours that Jay had planned. (Although that is not unusual, it is quite "usual" that almost everything takes longer than Jay thinks it will.)

They (Jay and the boys) started around 10 am and called it quits around 9 pm. In the afternoon, Roger (Rinnah's boyfriend) joined the crew. Roger had already spent the earlier part of the day helping Rinnah work on my wall while I supervised and provided verbal support. (see "Wall Magic" below)

Rinnah and Roger were on their way up our driveway and on to the hotel to take a shower and a nap. They planned to go to the "Fulton Street Fair" that evening, so when Roger stopped his car at the tree splitting party, his willing volunteerism was pretty heroic.

It took all four of them at times to muscle those big chunks into position before Nathan could lower the lever or whatever you call it that does the actual splitting. Usually you can just put a stump under that thing, lower it and it will split right down the middle… BUT there was nothing very "usual" about this. The stumps were so large and apparently gnarled inside, that they had to split little pie shapes all the way around, gradually reducing the diameter until it was more workable. After each split, the four of them would have to turn and push it back into position for the next split. I was totally useless except to take pictures so I didn't hang around much. They were even too focused and/or exhausted that cheering them on was pointless. I guess I have to admit that I was glad that neither my services or even my presence was required.

Amon uses a 2 x 4 as a lever to help position the stump:

The following pictures were taken the next morning. Only one partial stump and the root mass/base remained. My contribution would be to tow the splitter back to the equipment rental place on Monday morning.

Jay takes a break after splitting the final chunk:

We are left with two new wood piles "up there" in addition to the three or four trailer loads that the guys hauled and stacked here at the house. Our wood piling area here at home is FULL so those new stacks will just have to stay where they are until we need them.

A few days later…

You may remember that I had been faithfully hosing down the under parts of the tree stump (giving it a daily enema) to try to get as much dirt off the roots as possible. It still had a lot of dirt packed in, but it was the best I could do. Jay soaked it down with kerosene a couple times and then the day came to "light 'er up" I'm nervous about fire, but thankfully it was one of those windless days. I made sure the hose was connected… and put on my Fire Marshall hat. Heaven knows someone has to wear it.

A bit of cardboard and some dead branches easily got the fire going. Once it was going, Jay kept it going all day by continually adding more of those dried branches we stacked on the edge of Amon's lawn. The stump itself didn't exactly "burn up" quickly, but it did burn… and actually smoldered for several days later until it finally rained and put it out completely.

The fire is out, but it's still smoldering… This, of course is the under part. The tree is beyond being embarrassed now. I think it actually enjoys having it's picture taken, even in this unseemly position.

The picture below (taken from the front, not the underside) was taken after it rained a few days later. Until then, I went up to visit it every day… it was still smoldering and that hole in the middle got larger and larger. I will spare you my daily photograph record.

So… the story of this tree is almost over, but not quite… One of these days when Jay has nothing better to do, I'm sure we'll have another root-burn. OR, we could plant IVY on and around it… which is what I suggested in the first place. I think it's rather artistic and (with a bit of ivy) might make a lovely yard ornament.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Wall Magic

Over the weekend Rinnah worked her “Venetian Plaster” magic on a couple of the walls in the main part of our house. (This is not in the new room.) Unfortunately I forgot to take pictures before she started or early in the process. The only “before” picture that I could find was this one and it only shows the long wall, not the other shorter ones.

Before she arrived I stripped off all the old wallpaper and Jay removed all the baseboards and door trim (three doorways are involved.

The Venitian Plastering is quite an extensive process. It involves several layers of a colored plaster like substance which comes in paint cans… looks like paint, but it’s much thicker and is applied with a flat semi-flexable trowl in short criss-crossing strokes.

The first wall she did was the small multicolored one below. It was basically an experiment because she’d never used more than one color at a time. She started with a mostly white effect and began incorporating the brown and small amounts of red into it. The first couple layers seemed too “white” and sterile looking so she just kept adding more color until we finally decided we liked the effect you see here. We let the wall “grow” on us and decided it was a keeper, but that effect would be too “busy” for the other walls, especially the long one.

Here is a close up of part of that wall:

We decided that those walls should have more of a one color look. Since she had a whole can of red plaster left over from another job, we used that for the first coat, not intending for any of it to show in the final result. It would be only one of three or four layers.

We toned down the brown with a little white to lighten it a bit for the second coat… AND to make sure there would be enough brown so that we wouldn’t have to go to Home Depot (30 miles away) to buy more.

Here is Rinnah hard at work. You always have to keep a “wet edge” so there’s no pausing until you reach the end of a wall and this is a long one.

We even considered leaving some of the really small walls red (kind of a brick color) but quickly discarded that idea.

After a second coat of brown, we were done. I say “we” only because I was very involved in a supervisory role. I did help with the red undercoat, but really couldn’t get the knack of the criss cross thing, which is important to the final look. It is not meant to look smooth… although it IS smooth, but the underlying texture in each layer shows through.

The final step is “burnishing” which means polishing. It requires using a flat stainless steel trowel and applying a lot of pressure to polish the wall until it shines. This brings out the depth and texture of each layer even more. When I say texture, it’s only visual. When you touch the wall, it’s as smooth as glass, maybe smoother… it has a unique feel that is really amazing. I know that when people come to see me one of the first things I’ll be saying to them is “go feel my wall”…

Roger provided all the muscle power to do all the burnishing on all the walls. (Boy, that's a lot of "alls" all in one sentence.. which I assume is not at all gramatically correct. ) Because it requires a lot of pressure it’s not easy, especially the high and low parts of the wall. Rinnah joined me in the supervisory lounge during that phase.

The original plan was to have a little party for all the men in the family that we could round up… and maybe host some sort of competition… but as it turned out Nathan and Amon were both involved in helping Jay split wood all day long. (And Roger… good guy that he is, ended up joining the wood splitting team AFTER he finished the burnishing… but that’s another story.)

Roger goes “high”:

Roger goes “low”:

Supervisory lounge:

I tried to take a picture that would show the shine, depth, and what I call texture (even though it's actually smooth) after the burnishing, but it didn’t show in the picture.

While Rinnah was working on the plastering, I assigned myself to refinish the baseboards and door frames. I sanded them down lightly, restained and re-varnished them (hoping to disguise the years of abuse they’d suffered through 25 years of co-existing with our large family.)

I got Jay to put the long baseboard back and then I tried to recreate the arrangement on the wall I had before for all the “school pictures” of my kids and grandkids.

I had hoped to have a final picture with all the door trim and baseboards in place, but it seems Jay isn’t much in the mood for putting them up right now… or something. At least I have that long one where it belongs and the rest can just wait I guess. Hopefully not too long.

All through the process, Rinnah and I kicked around ideas for what to put on the multicolored “focal” wall. We talked mostly of a large black and white framed picture or maybe two… but I also have a large wood frame with a brick colored mat that might work if I could figure out a black and white photo to enlarge to that size… WE loved the brick mat with the wallpaper.

Another more likely option is to hang a framed mirror there. I’m working on that idea now and kind of like the way a mirror reflects the natural light from the windows on the opposite side of the room. Time will tell on all that. Hopefully not too much time but I wouldn’t count that out.

(This post was my first attempt at using a different process for including pictures by uploading to Picassa Web Albums and linking to them. There are fewer options for arranging them, but it's somewhat easier in other ways. I'm still experimenting with this.)


I just took some pictures of some of my options for that multicolored wall... none of them are hanging (or sitting) at the exact right height, that will come when I decide what I am going to do.

The mirror frame would need to be sanded and restained to dark walnut like the rest of the wood trim. I do like how it reflects the light from the windows. I looked at a few other mirrors in stores and if I could find just the right one I'd buy it... but that seems unlikely.

The picture frame might be a little large and strange shape to find just the right picture to put in it. (I was thinking of a black and white print of some sort. I like the color of the mat. The picture is a sunset. I considered just hanging it sideways (as shown) and pretending it's not really a sunset, but simply "art".

The other two smaller pictures have the black frames and black and white pictures. They are too low (and belong on another wall), but something similiar might work if hung just right.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Embarrassed For Our Tree

I am a little embarrassed for our tree. I'm sure it never imagined laying in the yard with its private parts exposed to the whole world. No tree would want to be seen this way.

It's my job to go visit the tree every day and hose the caked on dirt off its roots. I feel like I'm performing a tree-enema or colonoscopy or something equally evasive and embarrassing I just tell the tree, "I'm doing this for your own good"… which really I'm not… it's totally selfish… it's so we can get rid of it altogether. I'm not telling the poor tree that though.

Jay wants to burn that root structure right there where it is… it's too big to chop up or move. He is afraid it won't burn unless we get most of the dirt off of it first. The dirt isn't just "on" it…. It's packed between all the little roots and crevices like concrete. So I take the hose and high power nozzle and spray into all its secret parts daily, gradually washing away the decades of packed in dirt. Once it's clean, it will take forever to dry out enough to burn, but that's not my problem. I suggested planting ivy on it and turning it into a yard ornament, but Jay didn't like that idea.

Mostly what remains to be done besides that is a lot of splitting and hauling. Some of those chunks of trunk are very large!

The pile of small branches with leaves is drying and compressing nicely. It's been way too windy to burn anything lately, but it can wait. There will be more to add to it if we ever get around to that tree behind Amon's trailer. That will have to wait... we're heading out of town for the weekend. More rain is coming on Monday...

Monday, June 02, 2008

Tree Tales - Day Two

If you haven't read the previous post "Electrical MalFunction" (below this one), please read that one first.

I fell asleep early on Saturday night while Jay was still sharpening his chain saw. When I drove up the hill on Sunday morning (while Jay was still asleep), I could tell he'd been at work. This is what I saw:

The road/driveway was cleared! This picture (above) is a little deceptive, since you can't see anything to the left. Everything here almost looks "normal"

After Jay woke up we both went up the hill to get to work. It didn't take long for the humidity to kick in… it was a hot, sweaty job, requiring numerous sit-down in the shade breaks. The picture below was taken after several hours of work.

The work rolls have always been rather clearly defined in our family when it comes to tree-stuff. Jay does the "skilled labor", i.e., the chain saw stuff. I (and/or various off-spring) do the non-skilled labor, i.e., the picking up, carrying, stacking stuff. This day was no exception, although Jay had to start off with the loppers just to find a path to something he could use the saw on. He lopped, I carried… smaller leaf laden branches and twigs, that is. He decided that we'd stack them all along an edge of the driveway that is actually on Amon's front lawn area.

He says we're going to let them sit there and dry awhile, then burn them right there. (The grass will grow back, and supposedly it might actually be good for the soil.) He said to try and keep the stack four feet high or less, but to just keep making it longer. Well it's about 30 feet long right now and as of quitting time yesterday, there is probably about that much more to add to it that we haven't gotten to yet. Yippeee… all that carrying, with the distance getting further and further… free exercise, who could ask for more? In the picture above, you can't even see the part that goes around the bend in Amon's driveway.

When Jay got to a point that he could use the chain saw, my duties doubled… I was no longer just the "carrier" of small branches, I was also the small twig de-foliage-er. The branches he was cutting had leaves and twigs growing all over them. In order to have a well ordered wood pile, all those twigs would need to be clipped off. That was my new job, and much preferable to branch-carrying, although I had to alternate between the two.

The most rewarding part was seeing wood piles beginning to form…. Jay says we'll take the trailer up and pick them all up at once when we are done. I love the look of (orderly) woodpiles, I think they lend "atmosphere". If he wanted to leave them sit there all summer, I wouldn't mind at all.

This is a rather photogenic wood pile, don't you think? (below)

In the picture above you can see part of the oak tree that is stuck in the other tree. There were more that Jay pulled down, but he'll have to get the tractor to pull this one out, it's stuck high up. Originally I thought that tree had been destroyed, but it actually only lost a few branches while breaking the fall of the Oak.

In addition to my jobs as "carrier" and "clipper", I decided to bring up the lawnmower and attached little wagon thing… and rake up the leaves and small stems that were covering the ground. It sure seemed simpler and less messy and more instantly gratifying to me than sifting through them for sticks and small branches (and carrying them to that pile)…and leaving the leaves on the grass for Jay to "mow up" with the brush hog. (HIS plan)

I tried to get Jay to concentrate his efforts in one area so when he was done and after I'd clipped and carried all the wood to the pile and all the branches to the other pile… I could rake it up, scoop up the leaves and see nice "clean" lawn again. That's important to me, being able to SEE progress. Jay didn't "get it", but at least he tolerated it.

We have a LOT of White Oak on our property… and I've always wondered about the little white balls shown below… And now I got a close up look. CREEPY!

Jay has always said they are part of the tree, like acorns are. I never really bought that story, and especially with the close up look here. I always thought they were either a disease or bug-related. Hehe… I was RIGHT. I just spent time on the internet verifying that fact. They are "galls" produced by some kind of insect for whatever stage of their life. It wasn't clear if they laid eggs in there, or if the balls were just the tree's reaction to them feeding on it. I think both. Later in the summer the white turns to brown. Like I said, they are VERY creepy.. soft looking and you can see veiny stuff inside them. I was very careful to look before "carrying" any branches.

Amon showed up to help after he got off work at three in the afternoon. By that time, we'd made a lot of progress, but his help was surely welcome. He could take over part of my duties!

As you can see the main part of the tree is now pretty "naked". What you can't really see is that there is still a huge mess behind it… far from the pile where I'm supposed to carry the branches to.
I told Amon to "pose".. This is the result (above)

I got Amon to stand by the roots of the tree, to show perspective of how big it was at the base. The hole (not pictured) is about four feet deep and very muddy. I thought about asking him to get in it, but decided that would really be pushing it.

The tree behind Amon's trailer (below) will have to wait to get any attention. As you can see it got major damage also.. about one third of it broke off. Luckily it broke AWAY from his trailer, and newly coated roof.


Yesterday I had some thoughts that I will now bless you with….

I was thinking how much I admire Jay for being the hands-on-guy that he is, especially at our "advancing age". There is just about nothing that he can't do or will at least attempt when it comes to maintenance of our property.

Jay takes care of our roads with the tractor, fixes any plumbing, electrical, or structural problems, many vehicle problems, appliance mal-functions, and other stuff (that I can't remember right now). Yeah, sometimes he might be a bit slow at it.. but he (usually) CAN do it and usually, he DOES. It seems to me that he often does physical work that most men half his age would shudder at even considering.

I actually find that a very attractive quality in a man…. Possibly even "sexy" haha… Yes, even more appealing than a man who is accomplished at other more genial things like lounging on a yacht, dressing in the current fashion, or sipping exclusive wines. (not that I would mind doing that at times… minus the superficiality and switching the wine for beer, that is.)

(However, sometimes I DO wish he'd just pay someone.)

I took it on myself to ask one of our neighbors (who stopped over to check out the mess) if they had a wood splitter… Jay usually just does it all by hand with a splitting maul! BUT I'd hate to see him even attempt it this time. Heck, there is no way I want him laid up in bed with a back problem! They DO (have a splitter) and she said we are welcome to borrow it. (YAY!!) I'm not even sure how Jay's chain saw can cut through the diameter of that tree… I think he needs a bigger one for that… like a logger's chain saw or something. He's probably been thinking about this little problem already.

What I do know for sure is that this project is far from over.

Tidying Up - Monday Morning

This morning I went up the hill to survey the tree-mess situation and was surprised to see that Amon had done a LOT of work after Jay and I left.

I spent the morning "tidying up" the area. It looks sooo much better now. There is nothing on the ground except the main trunk various sizes of branches that still need to be cut (and possibly split) to the right size to burn in our stove.. no leaves, no small branches…

I had to hurry because another "severe" storm is supposed to be on it's way, and after that, another one tonight! I just hope the storms don't blow around my neatly stacked leafy branches which are waiting to be burned.

We now have TWO rather decorative wood piles. I really think they provide "atmosphere" to the place, right? In the foreground is one of two piles of smaller branches that still need to be cut.

Those big chunks (below) will have to wait to join the wood pile. That's man-work… I could barely roll them into line. They are heavier than they look.

Just yesterday, this area (above) which is behind the main trunk was full of large and small leafy branches and the ground was covered with leaves and sticks. Now all that remains is the small pile of branches to be cut up.

I feel much better now. AND with storms coming the next couple days, that's it for now.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Electrical MalFunction

Yesterday, we had a thunderstorm and in the midst of it, our electricity went out… not a big deal, it happens. After a little while it seemed apparent that it wasn’t going to just “blink right back on” as it often does. Jay tried to call the electric company but couldn’t get through because the line was busy. He kept hitting redial and I got the bright idea to drive up to “the top of the hill” to see if it looked like any of our neighbors had their lights on…. As I approached the top, this is what I saw:
Yep, that is a HUGE oak tree, laying across our driveway. Not only that, our pump house (for our well) is somewhere in that mass of leaves.
I could see broken electric lines laying on the ground under the tree and on both sides. No wonder we didn’t have electricity.

I got around the tree by driving on the grass… got out of the van and took a few more pictures.

That tree laying on its side was as large as the one still standing. The base of the trunk is about four feet in diameter.

It’s a miracle that it missed the pump house… by an inch or so. It would have been a REAL drag to have had our well or pump messed up.

There is a huge hole in the ground where the roots used to be. The picture doesn’t really do a good job in showing how big (and deep) it is.

These trees may have been there when the old farmhouse that stands on our property was built in 1903. (no one lives in it now) When we bought the property in 1981 there were three of them. Quite awhile back we cut one down (before it could fall)… this one fell, and now there is only one left.

After I found out what the problem was… and saw those scary electric lines on the ground, I called the electric company again and this time got through. I told them that a BIG tree fell on our lines. Meanwhile Jay had been getting out his chain saw and getting ready to head up the hill to start cutting a path through the branches across the road. I was more than a little nervous about him messing around up there with the electric lines on the ground… so I was relieved when the electric workers showed up after only about 15 minutes, and before Jay even got up there.

The guys said…” wow, that is a BIG tree…” I said, “Yeah, that is what I told your dispatcher…” They said they knew it was “big” but never expected it to be this BIG. They called for more help then made sure the wires were not “hot”… When two more guys got there, they got in the “bucket” on their truck and sawed off the upper parts of the tree branches so that they could reconnect the lines.

After this quick attention from FOUR electrical workers, I felt better about our higher than usual electric bills. I really never expected them to cut any parts of the tree. I only thought they’d disconnect the lines and then say to call them when we got “our tree” out of the way. I guess I failed to understand that the whole neighborhood lost power, thanks to “our tree”, so of course the electric company had to get it back on as soon as possible.

After 3-4 hours we (and all our neighbors) had electricity again and all that remains now is putting away my candle collection… oh yeah… and cutting up and splitting that tree and cleaning up the mess. There is another tree behind Amon’s trailer that lost a huge branch in a storm the day before… about half the tree… but I guess cleaning up that mess will have to wait. At least we’ll have the trailer hitched to the tractor, ready for action… no wait, the tractor will also have to grade the road and repair some of the huge ruts made by the amazing amount of rain in a short while.

One thing is for sure, we will have firewood for a LONG time. We still have a couple cords left from the ice storm clean up this past winter.