Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Honey we're (almost) home!

So we fly back to Seattle tomorrow mid-day, and then drive the 4-ish hours home... The past 2 weeks have at times dragged and at times flown by. I'll be sad to leave Alaska, the boat, my in-laws, and all the wildlife, but oh-so-happy to be home!

I can't wait to see how my plants have grown in the garden (not looking forward to the weeds' growth though!), can't wait to pick the dogs up and get sloppy dog kisses, and definitely can't wait for a real shower. Not to mention sleep in my own bed!

The boat has been great though. We've met some really nice people on the trip (boaters are so friendly for the most part!). And there has been so much time to just relax and watch the scenery and the wildlife. Oh the wildlife! We've seen so many things! Black bears, grizzly bears, killer whales, humpback whales, moose, so many bald eagles, and oh so many new-to-me species of birds (I mean lifer birds for all you serious birders out there).

I won't do the breakdown here and now; partly because I still haven't sorted all the pictures, and partly because there is still one more day to go. But expect a list post coming up soon of birds & other wildlife seen. I imagine there might be some of the nicer pictures in that post too :) Also you can expect some sort of post about what to pack for a boat vacation (with a toddler) & perhaps some thoughts on storage solutions in boats!

Washington we will see you tomorrow!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Petersburg Hello

We've been having an amazing time on our boat trip in Alaska so far! We've got a ways further to go, but have made it to Petersburg. It is a really nice little town, with amazing scenery. I saw my first iceberg (very small, more a bergy-bit) yesterday, which was quite exciting, but everyone we talk to here says we will see lots more as we move on past Petersburg. Hopefully we will see lots more whales in the next while as well. So far we have seen a pod of Killer whales and several small groups of Humpbacks, as well as some dolphins or porpoises. There have been lots of new bird species, too many to list at the moment, but I am getting good pictures and will share when we get back! Here are a couple nice shots to tide you over until then. I don't want to spend too much time sitting in this wireless spot, as it is finally sunny outside!!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Finishing the deck - new stairs

A bit over a year ago my husband and I cut the old falling apart deck off the side of the house. Rather, he cut the deck off. With his chainsaw. And then towed it away from the house with his Jeep. Yeah. Cause he's high tech like that.

We then started the new deck. It was our first big project together, and neither of us had any experience building decks. It was often a difficult project, let's just leave it at that. But we persevered, and even wound up with a (mostly) square, level deck. We're pretty proud of it in fact :)  We built stairs off one end, but the other end we just left a small section of the old deck as a lower level, to tide us over until we had time to build another set of stairs.

That brings us to last weekend. While my parents were here, my dad and I cut our own stair risers, and then over the last week I slowly got them attached to the deck, leveled out, cut the leftover trex bits down to the right length, and nailed them on to the risers.

That made it sound really easy. It wasn't. Cutting your own risers is a pain! I thought I was saving money by not buying the premade risers, but was I ever wrong! It took us most of an afternoon to get the boards measured to match the existing stair risers, and get them cut, and then I still had to dab the cut ends with pressure treating goo so that they wouldn't rot. Not that it was a task that was difficult, it was just way more time consuming than it was worth considering the few dollars we saved!

But oh well, lesson learned I guess! Here is my picture step-by-step how-to to building new deck stairs from scratch.
Measure existing steps to match the rise & run of the stair riser

Measure the height the new steps need to be

Match the angle of the existing steps & make sure the steps will be level

make sure you have power tools capable of making all the cuts

talk about every step in detail so you don't make a wrong cut

level the area for the new steps & dab sealant on the cuts in the pressure treated wood

Use a level to make sure the riser is correctly placed

Lay the bricks parallel with the deck

Get cute help to make your day better

Try not to let the cute help eat your nails

Measure correctly & put up all the risers

cut the step boards & nail them in place, leaving the rest of the patio stones for later!

You may not hear from me much for a couple weeks, we fly out tomorrow to Alaska to meet up with my husband's dad & stepmom on their boat & tour around the coast of Alaska between Juneau & Ketchikan. I've never been to Alaska before, so I'm pretty excited! I am hoping to see lots of whales & fish, not have anyone fall overboard, and not get seasick! Oh, and hopefully Little M gets used to her lifejacket really fast... :)

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Feeding wet hummingbirds

Where I live we have 3 species of hummingbirds: Black-chinned, Calliope, and Rufous. We also have A LOT of them! One cold rainy morning last week I happened to be out on the sunporch feeding the dogs and noticed just how many there were visiting our main feeder.

The feeder has flowers for 6 birds. And there were up to 10 hummingbirds drinking or waiting their turn to drink! I even saw a couple birds sharing a flower.

It had been colder than normal the night before, and it was really wet out. Some of the birds looked just miserable, like this one sitting on the empty bird seed feeder that I still haven't taken down from the winter.
I love seeing the hummingbirds, they are so pretty! Ours are going through so much sugar water right now that I'm having to refill our 3 feeders every other day, totaling about 4-5 cups of sugar water! Here is my method for making sugar water. This is quick & easy, and I don't have to wait for it to cool before putting it out for the birds (don't want to burn their little tongues!).

Sugar Water:
4 parts warm tap water
1 part sugar

I typically use a 4 cup measuring glass and put in 4 cups of warm water and then add a cup of sugar.

In the fall, when the birds are preparing to migrate south, I often up the sugar content to more like 2 parts sugar for every 4 parts water (so 4 cups warm water & 2 cups sugar). This helps them get extra energy stores for their long migration.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Family Tour: a snowy mountain pass & a mudslide

While my parents were visiting last week we took one day of their visit to do some touring around to show them some of the area that they hadn't yet seen. We left in the morning and headed up to the pass, which had just opened a couple weeks ago (a much later than normal opening date due to all the snow we had this winter). Here are some of the sights at the top. Of course, afterwards I realized that between my mom taking photo's mainly of Little M and my husband taking pics mostly of her too, the day was more a granddaughter photo shoot than a mountain sightseeing trip... but... :) So I stuck some cute ones of Little M in for you to see too!

The teeth on this snow blower were serious sharp

The snowbank on the edge of the road was pretty impressive, especially for this time of year

Little M enjoyed walking around in the snow for the first time (she wasn't walking yet in the winter)

She absolutely loved squashing it under her feet!

After we drove up to the top and turned around we started back down, and stopped at one last lookout to take a group picture and have some lunch. We got to watch a little avalanche come down in pieces above the road, which was pretty neat!

Afterwards, we did a loop drive of my favorite biking loop in the upper valley, and ended up at the mudslide that happened last week. My husband was there shortly after it happened, and it affected one of the lakes that is partly a reservoir for an irrigation ditch that I have worked on a bit through my work, so we thought it would be fun to go up and check it out with the fam. The creek runs down a narrow valley, and what they think happened is it got dammed up in the valley, which allowed a lot of water to pile up and then when it released it just tore down, taking lots of wood and mud with it. It must have been pretty crazy when it happened!

The mudslide wiped out most of an alfalfa field after wiping the road out

The mud line goes way up the hill side

There were lots of trees & boulders along with the mud

big logs got pushed way up the hillside by the force of the mud & water

The stream used to be little and surrounded by lots of vegetation, now the valley is wide open

Once we finished our hike we drove back down and into town to pick some things up to continue our fix-up tasks. I'll keep posting about them over the next couple of days :) There are some we didn't quite finish, so I'm trying to finish them before too long. Expect some hummingbird photos, a how to make your own stair risers post, and maybe even a bit about rewiring the outlet for our new dryer. Have a great weekend everyone!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Installing a light timer for the front porch

A few months ago I bought a timer switch for our front porch lights. Last spring my husband replaced the old junky looking lights with new pretty ones.
We put energy saver lightbulbs in, and have the lights on when it is dark outside. I know some people like to have them on just until they are in bed, or for a portion of the dark evening hours, but my husband often comes home very late in the night (or early in the morning) from work, so we need them on throughout the night often enough that we made that our routine.

However, it ends up being me who is the one turning them on around dusk and off when I get up in the morning, and it always seemed silly to me not to have them on a timer. Well it seemed like it would be easy to buy a timer and install it instead of the switch. And it was, but it didn't seem like it at first, let me tell you!
While my parents were visiting last week, and several months after I purchased the timer, I finally installed it. It was really nice having my dad there as backup in case I needed some advice, or wasn't sure what I was doing. He mainly stayed in the background, took some pictures, and had tea with my mom, but I appreciated the support!

So I started by turning off the breaker for the lights, checking to make sure they were off by having  both switches turned on, turning the breaker off, then making sure the lights were all out. Then I began by taking the switch cover off and removing the screws holding the two switches on. I used my headlamp to see the wires better, since I had the lights all off and it was getting dark outside.

Then I removed the switch that I was replacing and figured out which wires I would need for the timer installation. While the switch only had 2 wires, the timer needed 4 (adding a neutral & a ground).
 I took my time at this stage, and took lots of pictures to show how I connected the wires with these neat extra secure joiners that my dad brought down with him. I tried to find them here in the US, but no luck. They are good because they ensure a very solid connection when you are attaching single wires with multiple strand wires that are easily broken using the twist & twist on cover method. There is a metal sleeve with a screw in the side, and you stick the 2 or more wires in the sleeve, then tighten the screw down on them. Then you twist the black cover over the sleeve and you are good to go!

When I had all the wires connected, the next step was to get enough room in the box to fit everything inside when the light switch and timer were screwed back on. This was tricky. The connectors were very bulky, and there were a lot of wires! I used my pliers and forced the wires to mesh together and fit back in the box neatly.
Then I screwed the light switch and timer back onto the box, and used the new switch cover plate that I bought especially for this spot - it has a larger opening for the timer and a smaller opening for the switch (that switch is for the entry hall light).
Then I turned the breaker back on, and followed the timer instructions to set up the on/off times to my satisfaction.
The key thing was to make room in the box to fit the large timer that takes up more space than the switch did. The other important part was to get the right wires connected, and to securely connect and cover them. It has been so nice for the last several days to not have to remember to turn the light on in the evening and off in the morning! Its surprising how simple a change it was, and I'm sure it will be saving me lots of time down the road, not to mention having one less thing to remember! Thanks Dad for your support on this one!

Monday, June 6, 2011

our free 1978 lawn mower - up & running!

Last fall a friend of my husband's gave us an old beat up ride-on lawn mower that he and friends had been using around the valley for the last 30 years or so. When we got it, it was running, but the pto that ran the mower blades wasn't working. Not being very mechanically inclined, neither my husband or I knew what to do next, so the mower sat in the garage until this past week.

My parents visited last week and over the weekend, and of the many things that my Dad helped us out with, the lawn mower was likely the most exciting! He is very handy, and was able, with the help of an electrical circuit tester, to figure out that the problem wasn't that serious, the on/off switch on the dash for the pto wasn't working - simple fix once we bought another switch from the Napa store in town.

Under my dad's guidance, my husband and I helped to change the oil, put a new air filter in, pump up the tires, use a wire brush to clean the spark plugs off, use a grease gun to put more grease in the front axle and tires, and put on a new battery clamp.
We didn't buy a new battery, instead using one my husband had lying around from his boat motor. We strapped it on tight, and filled the gas tank, and off my husband went, mowing the ridiculously long grass/weeds in all of our fields.
Of course, a few hours later, while my dad and I were down in the lower field putting the new grease gun to use on the old hand-me-down disc system we got from a neighbor for discing our lower field, he came driving back up to the garage. The mower had all of a sudden stopped cutting grass! After letting the machine cool down while we worked on other things inside, my dad and my husband went back out to the garage and checked all the circuits again. Nothing to explain why the pto wasn't turning on.
They had been worried it was the pto switch, or the on/off switch again. But after some trial and error, they realized it was the boat battery - it wasn't putting out enough power to run the pto. So by using the Jeep battery in the mower, it worked again! My husband went back to mowing, happy as a clam :)

Last evening, he was at it again after work, trying to get all the grass mowed before it starts raining again. The Jeep battery is going strong. Of course, the Jeep is now sitting at the edge of the field, unable to be moved back into the garage without it's battery!

It's pretty exciting to have the mower running; for the past 2 summers we have been using a push mower to try to battle the weeds, so having a 42 inch deck on a ride-on mower is really a time- and back-saver!

I'm joining up to the homestead barn hop today. Head on over to see what is going on on homestead's all over the place!
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