Wednesday, December 15, 2010

No Menu For You!

A Sony Betamax machine needed to finish an earlier digitizing effort was finally located, and incredibly, for its age did not need any repairs before use. Like most people, I was vaguely aware at the time that the Betamax & VHS videotape formats were rivals in the days of the home videotape recorders. This was only the second time, though, that I had ever been around a Betamax machine, and was surprised at how similar-in-size it is to a late-model VHS machine.

The tape cassette, though, is noticeably smaller than the VHS’s.

In a ‘small world’ kind of thing, The first time I saw a Betamax was in the early nineties, and the one I saw then might just be the one I have now. My Uncle Les was a gadget guy and one day he left a Betamax at my house for someone else to pick up. Although he passed away around five years ago, I was told that a lot of his stuff was still stacked neatly in the garage. So I emailed my aunt with a general description, and over Thanksgiving, one of my cousins located what I had described, and gave the Betamax to me at the big meal.

Other than not having stereo sound, the machine hooked right up to my digitizer, and after fine-tuning the picture, the analog version of the 1978 Contest of Champions recorded in Murfreesboro, TN was on its way to digital preservation.

For this effort, it seemed best to create an opening menu for the DVD so that the performances of the eight marching band finalists and judge’s decision could be easily skipped to. Although it should have been a simple task, the exercise ended up being a slow study in frustration.

In the past, Roxio brand CD/DVD editing software has worked well for all the audio CDs burned over the years for various projects. The 2008 version of the software currently loaded on my four year-old computer claimed to have the ability to do everything the present task required. But for some reason, the MyDVD function would not encode a video DVD correctly, and that particular function was necessary to create menus.

Roxio’s web site offered no help for the broken function other than a price cut for upgrading to Roxio 2011. Countless versions of freeware & shareware were subsequently downloaded from other sites, but for various reasons, none of these Internet offerings were able to do the job. So, although it chafed me, purchasing the Roxio upgrade appeared to be my only option.

Big and slow. The upgrade took forever to download and almost as much time to install. Continuing the theme, it takes forever to load and/or do anything. Everything this version does appears to require a lot of CPU time, and “Program not responding” is Windows Task Manager’s usual description of how the program typically accommodates my mouse clicks.

Normally I wouldn’t be so negative about a product. But my annoyance meter is still registering high because, after all the time & effort expended, I still don’t have a DVD with a custom-made menu. It appears my computer is too old to run the resource-hog software being sold today.

Since I won’t let this go for some reason, a new computer has been ordered, and should be here in the next few days. Hopefully, my next post will have a cheerier tone.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Of Dells and KitchenAid

The subject of computers, or the lack thereof, in our house has come up a lot lately. The Boyz have one, and Kim & I have one. Daniel wants a laptop computer for various reasons. Kim & I don’t. But everyone agreed there would be more harmony in the house if we had an additional computer.

Between my computer’s relative old-age and how slowly some of the video to DVD conversions of past projects went, the command decision was made to replace Kim & Tom’s Dell with a new one. So early yesterday morning, I sat down at Dell’s web site and spec’ed out a new Dell desktop computer with the power to slice & dice at blinding speed.

During the research, I noticed Dell listed a Netbook for a reasonable price, and Kim & I both agreed our home would simply be Harmony Central if we had three desktop computers and a Netbook. So a Dell Mini 10 was added to the cart.

After hitting the “Submit” button, I wandered into the kitchen to get a drink of water. Finding no clean glasses in the cabinet, I pulled one out of the KitchenAid dishwasher, and was annoyed to find the dishes wet & not looking all that clean. Figuring someone had run them on rinse & hold, the machine was restarted with new detergent.

At the point when the appliance was supposed to be making dish-cleaning whooshing noises, it buzzed a lot, and just did not sound like it was putting much muscle into the effort. Figures – I had just spent a lot of money on a new Dell something-something 10 computer & Netbook, and now the dishwasher acts up.

With no time to do anything about it right then, the dishwasher was allowed to run, and I headed out to my day job.

Around three hours later, Kim called, and told me the machine was still running, and its ‘water heating’ light was on.

After telling her to hit the ‘cancel’ button, I hung up & started thinking about how many unanticipated things money had been spent on this year, and now the gift-giving season is upon us. By all rights, I should have replaced the dishwasher earlier this year when it gave me trouble. Fortunately, a non-standard repair made then saved my wallet. I finished out the day hoping another low-cost fix would extend the life of my 10 year-old kitchen convenience.

Back home, after disassembling the lower part of the dishwasher’s interior, the buzzing sound was traced to a bunch of bone chips not being ground up by the built-in disposal. As a consequence, water flow to the pump was being restricted by a combination of chips & lint clogging up the works. After clearing the debris & reassembling the dishwasher, the familiar whooshing sound returned.

Considering this maintenance had occurred during what is normally ball-playing time with Cookie, the dog had been fairly patient with me. But now she had this “Are you just going to stand there and drink beer & watch the dishwasher wash?” look on her face. So we went out and played ball for a while.

Later, I walked by the dishwasher, and noticed the ‘Water Heating’ light was on. A quick check of the heating element itself revealed that the light was all that was on – the element appeared to be burned out.

The goal now was to get clean dishes without me having to hand wash any. Adding boiling water to the machine appeared to be the quickest way to reach the goal. So I Shop-Vac’ed some water out of the dishwasher and added boiling tea-kettle water in its place several times.

Even though I thought it was a great idea, it didn’t work – the light never went out. After a while, I declared that, while the dishes were probably not sterile, they had been washed long enough (three separate times) to be clean.

Since the lifespan of a dishwasher is 10 years, I ought to wheel mine out to the road instead of repairing it again. But money is unusually tight right now. I suppose I could cancel the order with Dell and put a new dishwasher under the tree, but that would not do much for the previous day’s vision of ‘Harmony Central’.

Unfortunately, no one in town had a new element in stock to sell me, and the replacement part had to be mail-ordered. While $100 was more than I wanted to spend for a heating element, it is considerably less than the $800 the local big-box store wanted for a new KitchenAid. So we will have to “help” the dishwasher wash for a few days by canceling the wash cycle and initiating rinse. But even with the extra attention, it still beats washing the dishes by hand.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Super-8mm Film to DVD Conversion

A couple of weeks ago, a high school friend pinged me on Facebook to see if I could convert some old films & tapes from our marching band days to DVD. As I am always open to new challenges, I asked her to send me what she had, and I would see what I could do. A few days later, the postman brought a box containing eight, Super-8mm reels of silent film, an audio reel-to-reel tape, and a Betamax II cassette.

The audio tape to CD conversion was effortless because I already had both the required reel-to-reel deck & software, and the experience of having done it before.

Although I had access to my dad’s old 8mm projector, it would not work with Super-8mm film. So I started asking everyone I could think of for the loan of a projector, and Betamax machine. Fortunately, a co-worker had a Super-8 projector he didn’t mind loaning out. But he warned me it needed a new light bulb.

Unfortunately, it needed more than just a bulb – The main drive belt had disintegrated.

I used to spend a lot of time repairing machines which needed new belts, and knew that finding an exact replacement belt was going to be slow, and expensive. But I also remembered the short-term fixes, and after a trip to the refrigerator’s vegetable drawer, a red celery band was pressed into action to get the wheels moving again.

The light bulb was a problem. Not for availability, but for cost. A local camera shop wanted $35 plus tax for the ENA-style bulb, and the Internet was only five or six bucks cheaper. Now, part of the goal in this project was to keep the cost as low as possible because this is supposed to be a one-time effort. I could have bought a new bulb, but for only 400 feet of film, it seemed prudent to investigate other options. If nothing else, the man who loaned me the projector had no plans to ever use the device again, so I had no qualms about returning a projector which still needed a light bulb.

Dad’s film & slide projectors used different style bulbs than the Super-8 machine, and could not be swapped out. But, out of curiosity the two film projectors were set up to see if the light from Dad’s projector could be recycled.

No – the resulting image was too dim. The Super-8’s bulb was rated at 80 watts. So a 90 watt spotlight was rounded up for the second effort.

Still no joy. Apparently the proper bulb’s claim to fame is its ability to focus a lot of light in to a small opening. Both of Dad’s projectors used optics to focus the bulbs’ light into a small area. So effort #3 found me holding a four-inch diameter magnifying glass between the spotlight and projector’s light aperture. But there is no joy in Mudville — mighty Casey has struck out.

Returning to the dugout, I started researching what all kind of devices use an ENA-style bulb. Eventually, something cross-referenced to an overhead projector, a machine which used to be very common where I work. Overhead projectors, having now been replaced with computer-controlled LCD projectors, are all but extinct nowadays. Good thing, too because it seemed like every time I needed to use one, the bulb was blown out. Fortunately, there were always replacement bulbs available. Hmm.

A check of the supply cabinet at work the next day found 11, spare, ENX-style bulbs gathering dust.

While physically extremely similar, ENA and ENX bulbs have very different power requirements. The Super-8 bulb was rated 80 watts at 30 volts. The overhead projector’s bulb consumed a blinding 360 watts at 82 volts – way too much heat & light for the effort; the film stood a chance of melting if the bulb was used as-is. So the setup was modified to include a Variac, and supplemental cooling fan.

Genesis 1:3

I’d like to thank Anheuser-Busch for contributing to my effort.

With the projector squared away, a borrowed video camera was set up to catch the action, and then wired to my computer via a digitzer. Then I sat down to watch & record eight, four-minute clips of the THS Marching Band. That’s me on the screen in the white shirt, fourth from the right.

For as old as the home movies are, the color has held up well, and none of the film broke (or burned up) during the viewing.

The first problem with my setup was noticed during the first reel, and there was not a no-cost option available to resolve it - The projection screen surface is contaminated. Oddly, the dirt (or mildew) only shows up when the screen is hit with bright light, and I could not come up with a non-destructive way of cleaning the 50 year-old fabric.

The second problem was the quality of the image processed by the video camera. All the film had been shot a night, so it was a little on the dark side to start with. While I knew some resolution was going to be lost by the whole process, between that loss, and additional darkness added by the camera, the digitized video did not turn out as well as hoped for. Compressing the videos to fit YouTube made the issues even worse.

But for a virtually no-cost trip down memory lane, the effort was worth it, and saved my friend from immediately spending the $160 someone on the Internet quoted to do the conversion.

Fortunately, the audio tape turned out phenomenally well, and its wonderful sound helped offset the video disappointment. Hopefully the Betamax tape will turn out well – the search for a suitable player continues.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

2010 Airstreaming Finale

Much to my wife’s chagrin, I like to conclude our Airstreaming season with a cold-weather adventure because there is nothing more peaceful, to me, than sitting in front of a campfire in the fall. Kim relents because she knows the Airstream has a robust gas furnace to keep us warm at night.

For a variety of reasons, Tims Ford State Park in Tennessee was chosen as the last scheduled Airstream outing of the year. Although it is only about 70 miles from home, Daniel & I decided to take a half day off Friday to set up camp. Kim & Jared followed later in the afternoon.

The Park is only about 15 miles from where I grew up, so my parents found time to motor over & enjoy the first fire.

The first part of Saturday was taken up with walking the trails. Although the lack of rain over the summer diminished the fall colors, we still enjoyed the natural beauty of the area.

It was nut season at the park. The hickory nuts caught my attention because I had just spent a lot of time with Google Images identifying a tree in my yard. The two hickory nut varieties found during the walk, and pictured below, were subsequently identified as Shellbark and Pignut, respectively:

My friend Dan, who was raised on a farm, laughed when shown the picture later and remarked on the appropriateness of the darker-colored nut’s name.

While Jared was okay with the walk, he was pleased to see the Park had installed new playground equipment since our last visit.

Although the campground was not deserted, there were very few other campers, and the Boyz had the roads & trails to themselves.

Other than the walk on Saturday, I parked myself at the fire, and even nodded off a few times in spite of the cold. At one point Daniel joined me… with his DSi. While my preference would have been that the game stayed home, I knew that everyone was tolerating the weather just for me, so I didn’t complain.

We shook up the meals menu this trip, and other than lunch-time hotdogs, the fire was not used for anything else. Oddly, everyone appeared to forget we had s’more fixings.

We packed up Sunday afternoon and headed over to my parents’ house where other relatives had already gathered for a birthday celebration. After that, we headed home.

The Overlander is now winterized. But hope springs eternal that some fun event will pop up between now and next season.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

I’m just a Digitizing Fool

The other day, one of Daniel’s 4th grade teachers asked Kim if I could convert the kids’ production of “Call 9-1-1!” on VHS videotape into a TV-ready DVD. Since we always try to help the school out when we can, Kim took the tape from her knowing that if I didn’t already have the capability to do the task, I soon would.

Fortunately for the budget, I already had a DVD burner, and after purchasing a $35 video digitizer and borrowing a VCR, Ms. Zupko had her DVD. The Blooper Reel at the end of the short production made the effort worth it.

Other than wasting a few blank DVDs for various reasons, the process went fairly smooth, and I thought about burning extra DVDs for the grandparents and others to marvel at Daniel’s acting in the ‘Good Reason #5’s segment. Then it dawned on me to just post the clip on YouTube.

To protect the kids’ privacy, I thought it best to cut their names off the credits at the end of the production. Once again, the Internet came to the rescue with free video editing software.

Inspired, I sifted around in the closet to see what VHS-based treasures were worthy of digitalization. The first obvious choice was Jack Webb’s B&W movie “The D.I.” I had wanted to buy this on DVD, but Warner Home Video has yet to release it. Now my personal wait is over.

Combining old & new technologies, the Underwood Standard had been pulled out earlier to make folder labels for another effort. Daniel helped out with the typing while I digitized videos.

Kim thought all of this was great, but was dismayed to not find the videos of our wedding reception and Boyz’ prenatal sonograms in the ‘to-do’ stack. Imagine that.

It looks like these tapes are reaching the end of their life because the VCR started gumming up and providing jittery images. Luckily, I still had the specialty Q-tips needed for deck cleaning.

The last time I checked, “The Long Long Trailer” has yet to be released on DVD. That is, anywhere but my house.

I was a big “Star Trek – The Next Generation” fan, and recorded every episode when it was first broadcast. But I noticed most, if not all, of the seasons are now available on DVD. I could start digitizing my steam locomotive videotape collection, but the thrill is starting to wear off. I’ll probably do a couple more tapes, and give it a rest.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Digitizing Slides from the Past

The Boyz & I motored up to Tennessee this past Saturday to visit with my parents as it had been quite some time since we had been to my hometown. At one point, my dad mentioned that, in cleaning out a closet, he had come across his old Airequipt slide projector, and six carousels of slides. A certain gloom set in because I thought we were about to be treated to a review of life in the Seventies.

No, he was just interested in getting rid of it all, and wondered if it was worth anything. I had just started a spiel about “check eBay” when the glazed look in his eyes had me re-arranging my words to say, “…Why don’t I take all this back with me and investigate further”. He was only too happy to help load everything in my truck.

eBay is an amazing place. Before I threw a hubcap of my Airstream returning home from Florida a couple of weeks ago, I thought anything could be found there. But to my surprise, there was nothing even remotely similar to what my Overlander needs. Hopefully, the alert eBay allowed me to set up will send encouraging offerings before too long about someone wanting to find a good home for a 1967 Airstream Overlander International Hubcap.

eBay is the place for old Airequipt slide projection equipment, though. There was so much of it, and listed for such low prices that I am not going to bother advertising what came home with me – The potential selling price does not warrant the effort involved to box & ship.

The dust buildup on the projector made me think Dad had probably not used the device since I repaired it 20 years ago. Oddly, although Dad remembered the slides had an irritating tendency to jam, he expressed no thoughts one way or the other about what to do with the medium itself. Between figuring he probably wouldn’t mind seeing the images again, and out of general curiosity, I decided to explore what digitizing the 567 slides would entail so the images could be revisited on a computer instead of a darkened room.

Step one was to investigate a computer accessory which scans photographic negatives into computer-ready digital images I recalled Kim buying for her scrap booking hobby some time ago, but had never used. After reading it would also work with slides, the miniature scanner was hooked up to the computer. Interesting device – It was slow, but did poor work. The slides had to be removed from the carousel and snapped three at a time into a plastic holder. In spite of calibrating the device with its built-in function, every slide fed into it came out looking washed out in the resulting jpeg file. Not the ticket; it was a waste of money in spite of good reviews.

Mr. Google’s top response from wanted me to place each slide individually on my flat-bed scanner, back-light it with a flashlight, and then scan it. Judging the amount of time & effort required, I decided the answer to someone’s question at that site had been lifted from Dante’s Inferno. The scanner was never even warmed up.

Many helpful Internet entrepreneurs offered to scan the slides for me. But it was going to cost around $200 for the total effort – too much for what I thought might be, at best, no more than casual interest to anyone.

For other reasons, I had also brought Dad’s projection screen back with me. Since Santa gave me a camera tripod last Christmas, I decided to try what amounted to a Kinescope approach to the task wherein the projector and my digital camera work together to acquire the images.

That was the ticket. After the initial setup, the six carousels worth of slides were processed so fast that I hardly had time to look at the flurry of images going past. The slide below of me feeding an elephant gave me pause. Dad had labeled it “Busch Gardens 1971”.

While I remember visiting the attraction, I had not only forgotten about feeding an elephant, I had forgotten they had a zoo.

Between dirt on both the slides and the screen, the images could have turned out a little better. But for a trip down memory lane the results were great.

Plans are to send CDs of the images to the folks, and my brother & sister. Although the Kiwanis Club pictures won’t do much for anyone other than my dad, many of the other images will probably bring back fond memories for my older siblings.

Hopefully one of them will express interest in better quality images. Everything Airequipt is boxed, and waiting for a shipping label.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Mystery Nut Harvest

Many years ago, I was weeding a garden bed, and pulled up a plant still attached to the pecan from which it grew. Thinking it would be really neat {insert flashback to my carefree youth running about the pecan groves in southern Georgia} to have a pecan tree in the yard, the three-inch tall plant was carefully re-potted and placed where it could be easily watered. But within days, the squirrel who had buried the nut in the bed reclaimed it, and I was left with nothing.

My mom told me not to worry about because she was all the time running across pecan saplings in her garden, and promised to bring me one at some point. Some period of time later, she made good on her promise, and presented me with a six-inch sapling which was promptly planted in a corner of the backyard.

All was well for a couple of years until both Aunt Bron and Mother both were visiting, and Aunt Bron expressed strong reservations about the tree actually being a pecan tree as the leaves didn’t look quite right. She leaned more towards it producing hickory nuts when it was old enough. I decided to not worry about it, because ultimately the idea of a nut tree, any nut tree, was okay with me.

In time, the tree started producing nuts, but never that many, and the squirrels hauled them away before I thought about looking at one closer. This year, though, the now 20 foot tall tree was all but overrun with nuts, and last week the nuts were starting to drop on the ground. So it seemed like a good weekend project to finally harvest the mystery nuts.

O’dark thirty Saturday morning, though, found me firing up the Brinkmann to smoke a 12-1/4 pound brisket to feed the company coming over for supper.

But after the sun came up, Jared and I got busy picking up nuts.

Between Google Images & Wikipedia, the tree was finally determined to be a Black Walnut. UC’s publication 8005 agreed now was the time to harvest, and advised me to remove the husks, and let the nut inside dry for a while. The publication also reminded me of what I already knew in the back of my head that walnut juice will stain hands. So after a trip to the store for rubber gloves, I got busy cutting the hulls off.

Between fiddling with the smoker, reading up on nuts, and finally moving the brisket to a 250 degree oven to finish, time was running short on getting the cornbread salad and bread made for the rest of the evening’s meal. So I took a break from hulling and returned to the kitchen.

Cornbread had been made before the brisket claimed the oven, and was cooling before the next step. Bread was next, and I chose to use milk instead of water to get a softer crust.

One nice thing about having an Airstream in the back yard is the extra oven available when different dishes need different cooking temperatures. So the bread was allowed to double in size out in the Airstream while the vintage gas oven preheated.

The Magic Chef oven does a good job with bread.

The brisket turned out looking good in spite of having to be cut in half to fit in the smoker. I’m sure some of my Texas friends could do better, but the crowd liked this one.

Before the afternoon was out, the rest of the walnuts were hulled, and left to dry in the sun.

My friend Dan advised me to pressure wash the nuts after a day or two to get rid of more hand staining chemicals. Up to this point, the nuts had been drying on an old fiberglass window screen which I knew would not stand up to a pressure washer. So a sturdier screened box was made out of 2X4s and rabbit wire.

Here’s the harvest after a go-round at the quarter car wash.

Dan also advised me to let the cleaned nuts dry for a while to allow the meat inside to pull away from the shell. So the brownies will have to wait a little longer.

By the way, I didn’t give up on having a pecan tree in the yard. About seven years ago I found another pecan attached to what I initially thought was a weed and Daniel & I transplanted it to another home. This one I kept inside the house.

The tree was subsequently moved to the front yard around the time we were building Project Big Tub, and is now around 11 feet tall.

Pecan pie & walnut brownies! If only I ate desserts.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Crabapple – The Next Generation?

The first house I lived in as a married man had a rather sickly looking crabapple tree in the front yard. As I had fond memories of growing up with a crabapple tree in the front yard, the hope was that the tree’s health would improve so I would once again have fresh crabapples to... I don’t know. The neighborhood kids & I used to eat and throw them at one another. While there’s nothing like eating an occasional crabapple, I don’t think Kim would much like getting hit by one.

My dog at the time was Buddy, a male pit bull mix, and soon after moving in, part of his routine after being let out of the backyard was to run up and pee on the crabapple tree. At first it bothered me because the tree was probably thinking, “Here I am at death’s door, and look how I’m being treated”. But as time went on, that silly tree actually started looking better. By the time we sold the place, it actually added curb appeal.

I was thrilled when our next/present house was found to have an established crabapple tree in the side yard. Although many people at the time advised me to thin the water sprouts & crossed branches, I did nothing other than trim low-hanging branches. My “do nothing” approach appeared to work well until a few years ago when the tree just did not seem as happy & healthy as it used to. Buddy was no longer with us, and our present female dog Cookie appeared disinclined to follow in his footsteps.

But this year was different. I don’t know if it was due to the unusual weather or what, but the tree both looked good, and produced the most crabapples I have ever seen it produce.

Big, plump tasty ones too. I thought about collecting a few pounds of them, and making a jam or something. But before I could get serious about it, Kim told me she heard a strange noise one night, and looked out to see deer eating crabapples off the lower branches. Deciding that feeding wildlife was a better use of the harvest, my culinary intentions were dropped.

But what if this was the ‘calm before the storm’? The tree is obviously fairly old, and I started worrying that it might have put its energy into one last effort to produce seeds since the end might be near. I’ve read that pine trees do that. So I picked a couple of good candidate crabapples up off the ground, and planted a whole one in one cup, and a halved one in another. The cups were then planted in the front flower bed.

Not more than two days later, the fruit was gone – some varmint had looted the bed.

While annoyed, I was not necessarily surprised. For the next effort, though, I researched how Johnny Appleseed accomplished his goal, and discussed options for my next effort with a noted middle TN Master Gardener (my mom) to ensure the next planting had a reasonable chance of survival.

Five crabapples of different states of ripeness were collected for round II. One was quartered, another was halved, and the remainder left intact. The differing pieces were then buried at various depths in a terracotta pot of special mix.

A few years ago, birds ate up all the watermelon seeds I planted in the ground before the seeds had time to germinate. Deciding the best approach was to start the seeds in individual containers & transplant later, special precautions were taken to protect the seeds.

It worked, but seemed like a little overkill. So the level of physical security was lightened for this effort.

With cold weather approaching, there’s no guarantee the seeds will germinate this season. While I could move the pot inside and hope it gets regular watering, the plan is to leave it in its hole in the backyard, and keep an eye on it. The cool thing about the setup is the elevation – Cookie should be able to help the seedlings out should they appear distressed…

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Headline: TVA Lowers Lakes, Tom Scrapes Yard

Glancing through the paper the other day, a filler article reminded me that TVA would lower water levels in different reservoirs on the Tennessee River after Labor Day to accommodate winter and spring flooding. The information in itself was nothing new because they’ve always done that since most people around here consider Labor Day the end of boating season. “Flooding”, though, got my attention.

Looking out the kitchen window, I remembered when this idyllic scene:

Looked even worse than this:

Starting early last year, Alabama has been getting more rain in every season for the first time since we added onto the house around three years earlier. Until early last year, I had not realized how much the house’s addition changed the rain’s existing drain path. Previously, the backyard drained down either side of the house without issue. Between the Big Tub addition and subsequent grading, the bulk of the water is now directed to the Shop side of the house.

The problem was that the runoff was accumulating near the Shop instead of draining on to the side yard. At one point, the water got so deep close to the house that it overflowed the retaining wall protecting the under-house access door, and flooded the house’s ductwork. In another prolonged monsoon, water got so high around one of the Shop’s big doors that the shop flooded. Standing out in several of the rains trying to figure out a solution did nothing more than get me wet. It was time to survey the yard’s elevation.

After laying out a grid of yellow dots in the yard spaced at two-foot intervals, Daniel and I spent some quality time surveying & recording each dot’s elevation. The transit’s relative numbers were then crunched into absolute elevations relative to the fence gate’s drain point (to Daniel’s right in the image above).

Now that I knew where to look for high spots, it was easy to see why water was not draining. To correct it, though, a wide, shallow swathe of topsoil needed to be scratched off. I thought about renting a Bobcat & doing the work myself. But since I wanted it to look good, a landscaping company, found in the Yellow Pages, was asked to come out & take a look.

“L.A.” showed up a day or two later and patiently listened as I waved my arms and talked about Daniel & me shooting elevations. Then I patiently listened after he said “sure – no problem. But…” and went on to try & talk me into a French drain installed across the half-acre backyard. When he saw I was not biting, he then tried to talk me into an outdoor patio kitchen complete with a sink & running water. After sensing no enthusiasm on my part and seeing Cookie run across the yard with her ball, he outlined plans for a glorious koi pond complete with waterfall, “the dog will love it!”

He ended up spending almost two hours at the house suggesting all sorts of supplemental work before we agreed that all he was to do on this visit was to move dirt around while not disturbing my Victory Garden. At one point, I wished I’d just decided to do the work myself. But after watching how much handwork they put into the job, I was happy it was them sweating, and not me.

To their credit, L.A. & crew ran water in all the scraped areas to make sure better drainage paths had been formed.

Cookie enjoyed the king size bed feeling of all the new straw.

While it had not rained in the days prior to the guys coming over, it rained right after they left, and I ended up doing a little shoveling of my own the next day to correct some minor problem areas. Getting grass to grow was now the priority especially before the next rain. The problem was that just about every day has had a temperature of ninety-something degrees, and grass seed requires a much lower temperature in which to germinate.

L.A. had thrown out some generic grass seed before he left, and a lot of it washed out of position during that first night’s rain. Having heard that Pennington Seed’s “Dense Shade Mix” actually grows in dense shade, I bought a bag of it for the shaded areas, a bag of Kentucky-31 fescue for the open areas, and a couple bales of straw to re-seed & re-straw the effort.

Remember the Victory Garden? At first, I thought it was a cucumber plant. Then the fruit started growing in the shape of a watermelon. After a week or so of daily watering to get the grass to grow, then skins of the two remaining fruits started striating like they were going to split. But they didn’t.

Unfortunately, a day or two later, worm holes were found on both fruits. Cutting one open, it appeared to be some sort of melon even though it smelled like a cucumber.

Maybe the bird that left the seed will leave a genus-species tag next time.

Several yards of really good topsoil had to be removed from the flood plain, and I asked L.A. to spread it in two different places where I was having trouble growing grass due to substandard soil. After over a week of daily watering, the good soil spread on the west side of the house has yet to yield a single blade of grass. It’s just too hot, and most of that area is in full sun.

The east side of the lot, though, got covered with much of the first scrape of established grass, and looks pretty good.

In spite of how hot it has been, there is a decent amount of grass growing near the house

…and downstream of the Shop’s big doors.

Between the extra helping of straw and the grass that has grown, the scraped area should be able to handle a gentle rain.

The almanac says summer officially ended yesterday. Today’s high was 94. But, as Yogi would say, “It’s not over till it’s over”. My yard’s ready for cooler weather, though.

I’m glad we’re headed to Disney World next week to give me a break from agitating over growing grass. But if nothing else, I hope I’m now done with standing in the rain watching everything flood.