heavy weather
phoenix tomatoes

heavy weather

the garden and field after a very intense rain. Notice where there has been flash flooding.

We planted some tomatoes shortly after we got down here, on June 18th or so. Said tomato plants were courtesy of or friends and neighbors the Harrimans. William’s Greenhouse has a nice variety of quality plants for anyone near Spencer.

When we planted them, the ground was pretty dry. Apparently the annual rainfall was about 3 inches above average around mid-May, but 3 inches below normal by mid June. The tomatoes did quite well in their first couple weeks.

Then it started raining around June 26th. At first, the parched plants seemed quite happy with all the rain. However, it rained pretty steadily off and on for several days. The stream filled up and overran its banks, including the area containing the tomatoes.


We had planted the tomatoes though holes in black plastic to minimize weeds and help them retain moisture in case the drought had continued. The first time that part of the yard flooded, the black plastic stayed under the flowing water. The water receded some. Unfortunately for us and the tomatoes, it rained again the next day. The second time the low area flooded, the more violent flow carried the black plastic and the bricks holding it down several yards from the garden.

Since the black plastic had holes in it to let the plants through, I assumed that the tomatoes had been snapped off at their base for the plastic to move. We were sad at the loss of our tomatoes. This flooding was strong enough to carry logs a foot in diameter and 6 or 8 feet long into the middle of the field, so expecting plants to survive is optimistic even without the plastic moving.

healthy tomato plant

A tomato plant about 10 days after the flood.

However, once it dried out a bit, we took a walk to survey the damage. It was not as bad as we thought. In fact, it seems that all of our plants have pulled through the big rain. Out of the sludge and mud, the tomatoes have risen again for a second chance.

The plants were pretty caked in mud, so Rob “washed them off” by spritzing them with a spray bottle. I knocked some of the mud off by hand, and we staked them up. The only real problem that remains from this diversion is that thinking they were dead for a week was long enough for stores to sell out of tomato cages for this season.

Hoosier Hospitality


Thanks to the Fenders for this basket of goodies from their garden! Our neighbor Angie brought this over on July 8th with an explanation of exactly which garden and who picked what that is a bit too jumbled in my head to publish. It is nice to have neighbors that check up on you, especially when it includes fresh produce.

The hands of time OR updating art

A long time ago (in the 1970’s?), my father was not yet a father and with all this free time, he tried his hand at stained glass. One of the things he made was a clock that hung in my mom’s mom’s kitchen for as long as I can remember. When she broke up her house a year or two ago, she gave me the clock. Apparently, back in ancient times, they did not have “batteries”. The clock was hard wired to be plugged into an electrical outlet to run. And Grandma Wolfe’s kitchen had an electrical outlet where the clock went, so all was well.

Unfortunately, no one puts electrical outlets in the ceiling anymore. So I have been searching for battery operated clock hands for a while. Moving prompted me to get more serious about finding clock hands, since it reminded me that I had been in possession of the clock for 2 years without hanging it up. I am making more of an effort to take advantage of and recognize the value of things I already have.

If you want to know where to find clock hands, Hobby Lobby carries them. They have a nice note on the door about how they aren’t open on Sundays to give their employees time to worship. Alas, we only have 6 days to worship the thousands of square feet of the retail space that said doors reveal. I am finding increasingly awe inspiring as I grow older, or perhaps since I have spent time in Europe and large cities where space is too expensive to support acres of craft supplies and decor.

After agonizing over how thick the clock face might be, I selected one battery driven clock mechanism and some extra fancy hands. It was straight-forward to install and seems to still be working a week later, so I am ready to declare the project a success.

Check out my awesome clock.


Our new neighbor
That’s a big spider!

spider close-up

Close-up of the big spider in the bathtub

About a week ago, we noticed a very large spider in the kitchen, right by the hole where the old tap for the cookstove used to be. Clare told me to come look at it. Indeed, it was very large. It was so still I thought it might be dead, so I tried prodding it with an extended tape measure, and it scurried off at lightning speed.

spider perspective

A little more perspective on the size of the spider

The next day, Clare informed me that the spider had taken up residence in the downstairs bathtub. I confirmed this, and continued to check on the spider a couple times a day. It seemed like it hardly moved at all in the tub. On Saturday, a few of our friends came over for dinner, and we showed them the spider as part of the house tour. They hypothesized that the spider might not be able to get out of the tub and that we should try to put it outside. This seemed like a reasonable idea. I don’t like to kill spiders, since they eat other insects like mosquitoes.

releasing the spider

Rob releases the spider outside

Sunday morning we mulled over how we should take it outside, and we decided on trying to get it to climb into the dustbin. That was actually quite easy, and the spider did not seem anxious to leave it, so I carefully walked outside with the dustbin, had Clare take a picture, then set it out by a tree. Hopefully he is doing better outside.

Dryer Installation
10 hours of patience pays off

back view

Figure 1. View from the back of the dryer, fully assembled

Today the washer and dryer arrived from Sears. We ordered the LG Tromm Steamwasher and LG Tromm gas dryer. After several years of living in apartments with crappy laundry machines, we were really looking forward to something better, especially to a front-loading washer, which is supposed to be much more energy efficient.

Front with control panel off

Figure 2. Front with control panel off

Much to my surprise, the delivery guys were planning on installing the appliances as well, which was very nice. However, they will only install natural gas dryers, not propane. So they installed the washer and tested it, and then I got to work installing the dryer once they left. I had known ahead of time that I would need to convert the natural gas (LNG) to propane (LPG), and Ellen had already ordered the necessary conversion kit. The kit is actually just one little part (see Figure 11 below). Swapping this part out is in theory pretty easy, but in practice was quite difficult. I thought it would be worthwhile to put my experience on the internet.

Top view with top cover removed

Figure 3. Top view with top cover removed

Now that I have done it once, I probably could do it again in less than an hour, but the first time was very tricky. The real tricky part was figuring out where this little piece should go. The part came with some instructions, including a diagram of the relevant parts, but this was by far only a tiny bit of the necessary information. First of all, the instructions said to hire “qualified technician”, but not only did I have no clue of who to hire, since we had just moved, but I also did not want to pay for it. So, I read the instructions:

  1. To avoid personal injury, disconnect power before servicing this dryer.
  2. Gas supply line shut off valve must be in off position
  3. Disassemble the dryer
  4. Replace orifice as follows:
    1. Remove 2 screws
    2. Disassemble the pipe assembly
    3. Replace natural gas orifice with propane gas orifice
  5. Close the “change screw”
Closeup of screws to remove

Figure 4. Closeup of screws to remove

Backup there a second!!! “Disassemble the dryer”??? What exactly is meant by that? Well, that was a good question. I initially started down the wrong path, trying to open the back cover of the dryer, but after an hour or so realized that was the wrong place to look. I asked Clare for some help, and she suggested taking off the bottom. We put the dryer on its side to check into this option, and discovered some access panels on either side of the dryer near the bottom. After prying off the access panels, we were able to see a bit more of the inside, and lo and behold, we saw the part shown in the diagram in the instructions — all the way at the front right bottom corner of the dryer. Now the question was to figure out how to access it.

More screws to remove to get off front cover

Figure 5. More screws to remove to get off front cover

Normally, in this situation, we would turn to the internet. The problem was, that we still have not gotten internet hooked up at home. So, we ended up going to the public library to use the internet. And that turned out to be little help as well. I spent at least half an hour searching the internet before I found any helpful advice, which was in a forum called fixya.com, and consisted of the following steps (paraphrased):

  1. Remove 2 screws on each end of control panel frame
  2. Disconnect control panel harness. Pull up and forward
  3. Remove 4 screws on top of front cover
  4. Disconnect harness for the door switch and pull forward
Front view with front cover off

Figure 6. Front view with front cover off
Front view with lint cover removed

Figure 7. Front view with lint cover removed

These instructions started to make sense to me. I wrote them down, and we headed back home, where I continued working on it. I had already taken the top panel off, by first removing the small bracket which connects the top panel to the back panel (6 screws total), and then the top cover slides back a bit, then lifts off. The next step was to remove the control panel (with the LED, buttons, knobs and all that. The first step there is to remove 2 screws from each side of the back of the panel (note that each side includes one pointy screw and one flat screw). Then, you must disconnect all the wires to the control panel. If you ever installed a hard drive in a computer or anything like this, this should not be too scary. Just make sure you don’t have excess static electricity built-up, by touching something metal. All of the connections clip in, which means you have to press in on a tab to get them out. Once you have disconnected the wires, the whole panel should come off fairly easily (there are also some plastic tabs to be careful of).

Once the control panel is off, you will see 4 screws at the top of the front panel which were hidden by the control panel. You will want to remove these. This step took me well over an hour, because one screw was in so darn tight. After removing these screws, the door latch must be removed, as well as the screws next to it and the screws holding in the lint trap. Now the front cover should come off very easily, and the part we are interested in should be visible.

Figure 8. Wires from control panel

Figure 8. Wires from control panel

The next step that I took is probably not necessary, but I found it helpful. The lint cover partially obstructs the path to the orifice housing, so I also removed it, as shown in Figure 7.

Housing for the orifice

Figure 9. Housing for the orifice
The part that holds the orifice

Figure 10. The part that holds the orifice

Now one simply has to have a short screwdriver to remove the two screws on the top side of the piece that shields the orifice (Figure 10). Once this part is removed, it should be possible to unscrew the LNG orifice (I used pliers to get it started), and put in the LPG orifice. Once this is done, it is important to switch the regulator screw from open to closed.

The two orifices

Figure 11. The two orifices. Propane is on the left. Gas is on the right. Ruler shows approximate size.

Finally, just put everything together again, and that is it. Once I had everything back together, I plugged it in (since there are electronics, it requires electricity as well as gas (or propane) and nothing happened. A moment of shock! But, I kept my cool, and decided to re-check all the wires. Sure enough, I had overlooked one. I plugged it back in, and then everything was working like a charm.

Figure 12. Regulation Screw

Figure 12. Regulation Screw
Control panel wires reconnected

Figure 13. Control panel wires reconnected. (Except for one that I missed. Can you see it?)

So, after about 10 hours (including the time to search the internet at the library, and to do the normal hooking up of the gas line and the vent), we had a working dryer, which should not cause the house to blow up.

Hopefully someone else will find this information useful.

One Week in June


Rob and Clare and Dave and Ellen and Harold and Fran all arrived at the Spencer house property late in the day June 12, 2007 after a 7 hour trip from Ann Arbor. Clare did a wonderful job driving that big truck!


This picture shows the gravel driveway to the house looking away from the house.


This next picture shows the same view looking towards the house. You can see the gate, the main house the small house and, behind the trees the garage. We have arrived!


The six of us spent the rest of the week unpacking the truck, fixing up the main house, and having some fun along the way.
Fran and Harold were in charge of cleaning the kitchen. Here Fran scrubs down the old refrigerator which will be used for storage since it doesn’t work.


Harold put his efforts into cleaning the stove. Is it clean enough?


Ellen ripped off the wallpaper in the alcove where the new refrigerator will go – only to find MOLD!


So, Rob took down the the old, moldy drywall …


… and Clare and Dave put up new green drywall. Harold will apply a couple of layers of drywall mud before the week is over.


By Sunday June 17 the kitchen was ready for cooking. Rob made pancakes for breakfast and a rice dish for supper. Delicious as usual.


One of the highlights of the week was attending a Hog Roast/Pitch-in at the Fender’s home. This is the hog that Louie Fender roasted. He makes his own special sauce to go with the delicious meat. The neighbors brought their specialties for a potluck dinner.

At the end of the week the six of us posed for this picture. It was a week of work, of fun and of creating many memories. Harold and Fran learned a lot about the history of the house(s) and Clare’s family and their friends. If we look tired, well – we were. But it was still a great week. One we will remember for many years.

The two sets of parents left on Monday, June 18. Now Rob and Clare can put their own touches on this special home.

Painting — day six — departure

taking offThe three of us worked pretty hard for five days, and had a lot to show for it. It was time for Harold and Rob to head back to Michigan — Harold to his golf games and unstained doors, Rob to his dissertation revisions and mounds of e-mail. Dave is staying a whole week yet, during which time he will work a bit more on the long TODO list.

Painting — day five

Blue bathroom
Today Rob woke up right around 7:00 a.m., and started making coffee. Dave joined me just a few minutes later, and Rob woke up Harold once the coffee was done. We ate a little breakfast, discussed our plan of attack for the day, and got to work. Harold put the second coat of paint in the bathroom and on the blue room, while Dave and Rob worked on the foyer. Originally the plan was just to paint the upstairs, but we thought we had enough ginger paint leftover to paint the foyer, and thought that it would be nice to get that done. We decided to not paint the ceiling, as we didn’t think we had enough paint for that, and it didn’t look too bad. After clearing out the room and doing a little sanding, we washed the walls, then started painting. Since there was much more trimwork to be done in the foyer than was the case for upstairs, Dave and Rob spent most of the time brushing, and switched off rolling. Rob enjoyed that, because Rob had mostly been rolling, so it was a good opportunity for me to practice trimming. It is not really that hard. It just takes a steady hand, some patience, a wet rag to clean up areas where you mess up, and some experience.

Around 9:00 a.m. Lewis and Angie Fender stopped by for a few minutes to say hello and check on our progress. Angie gave us her approval of the paint colors we chose, and also invited us over for some lunch. Dave and Rob finished the walls in the foyer shortly after 11:00, and Harold finished the bathroom shortly after 11:30. We cleaned up a little bit, then headed over to the Fenders. We also decided that the ceiling in the foyer did need a fresh coat of paint, so we decided to buy a gallon of ceiling white paint after lunch.

We arrived at the Fenders right about on time, but Angie was still working on lunch, and Lewis was not to be found, so Angie told us to go find him. We looked for him in the meat shop, but it turns out he was in the wood shop, working on a rolling pin. Lewis has a real knack with woodworking, and many other crafty things. The Fenders have many hobbies! After showing us around the wood shop a bit, we headed back to the house, where Angie had prepared a great spread. After we finished lunch at the Fenders we headed to Walmart, where we found about half of the items on our list, as is usual. It was good that we had plenty of the Dutch Boy paint, because they did not carry it at all at this Walmart; they only had the cheaper ColorPlace paint. But we just needed ceiling white, so it was not a big deal.
painted foyer
When we got back to the house we went straight back to work. Dave started painting the closet shelves for the bedroom in ginger, and Rob and Harold painted the ceiling foyer white. We definitely could tell a difference in the quality of the paint, but it was good enough. We got done with the ceiling around 4:45, at which point we took a short break for a beer, then we put a second coat of ginger on the walls in the foyer, since the paint supposedly dried fully in 4 hours. By the time we were finished with that it was dinner time again, and Rob suggested going to the China Wok. Somewhat to Rob’s surprise, they had tofu there, which means that the Chinese restaurants in Trenton, Michigan are way behind the times. The food was actually very good — reasonably priced, not too greasy, and not overcooked. The only disappointing part about the China Wok is that they gave us styrofoam cups and plasticware. In the future, we will have to remember that it is better to get takeout.

Upon looking in the fridge when we got home there were 3 beers calling our names, so we decided to polish them off. While we were chatting, Rob got the great idea to see if the dishwasher worked, so we turned it on, and watched the dishwasher run. What an exciting evening! It turns out that the dishwasher works, but that it leaks a little bit, so we might have to look into buying a replacement door for it. Good to know now rather than later. We finally turned in for the night around 10:30, after yet another productive day.

Painting — day four

Harold rolls blue paintToday Harold won the contest for waking up first, around 6:15, and made some coffee. Rob and Dave got up around 6:30. After a little coffee and a bite to eat, we started work around 7:30. Harold started off with the ceiling in the bathroom, which got a coat of ginger paint, then he painted the one blue wall in the bedroom while the bathroom ceiling was drying, and then he could paint the bathroom walls blue. Meanwhile, in the living room, Dave and Rob were putting a second coat of paint on the walls. We all decided that the ceiling did not need a second coat, which saved both time and neck strain. We worked pretty much straight through until lunch.

After lunch we had a few social obligations, so we stopped by the Harrimans to say hello. Actually, we stopped by the Carpet Barn first, because Rob remembered that they close at 3 p.m. on Saturdays. We reminded them that they would need to bring new tack strip when they install the carpet, because the old tackstrip was laid right next to the drywall, instead of leaving room for the baseboards, because the baseboards were installed quite awhile after the carpeting. On our way to the carpet barn, we passed the Harrimans’ new property, and saw some people working, but we did not stop. Instead, we went to their house, and talked awhile with Kathleen, who told us that Steve and William were indeed the ones we saw at the property. So we went back there, and they had left. Oh well.

While we were out we decided to go into town and do a little grocery shopping. We got the makings for rice and beans for dinner, and some more bread for lunch the next day. Then we went back to the house, and looked for a few small things to do to round out the day. The day before we had determined that the venerable chest freezer no longer worked. So we decided to start putting things that didn’t work into the garage, for trash pickup at some point. The freezer was quite tricky to get out of its spot, since the bricks upon which the cookstove sits partially block the opening. After a bit of muscling, we got it out, then used the old dilapidated dolly to get it out the door, and finally pushed it across the lawn to the garage. Afterwards we moved the dryer as well, which was not quite as heavy. We actually did not test the dryer to see if it worked, but it didn’t seem to be in great shape, so we probably made the right choice. Clare and Rob are looking forward to getting a new, high efficiency washer and dryer.

At some point after moving heavy stuff Clare called from Europe, which was a very nice surprise. We talked a bit, and Clare gave her two cents on several decisions about the house, which was good. Meanwhile, Dave decided to do a little mowing, and Rob decided to try to plant some grass seed in the front lawn where there were some bare spots. It had been raining quite a bit for several days, so it seemed like a good time to plant grass seed, but as luck would have it, the next couple days were relatively dry! Dave must have sensed Rob’s eagerness to try out the riding lawn mower, so after a short while Dave offered Rob a turn. It was the first time for Rob using a riding lawn mower, and at first it seemed complicated, with several different levers and pedals and such, but it turns out to be rather easy. Rob mowed the rest of the front lawn, then did a bit more by the garage and down by the garden plot, which Dave and Rob covered with plastic earlier, to kill the grass.

While Dave and Rob were working outside, Harold was taking care some of the finishing touches inside, like cleaning the heating duct covers and the ceiling fans. He really got them looking like new. By this time it was starting to get to be dinner time, so Rob started cooking up the rice and beans. Almost immediately it dawned on him that he had forgotten to buy cooking oil, and that he had not brought a wooden spoon for stirring the pan. As we had learned on Thursday, the Snow Lion does not use cooking oil, so Rob decided to take their advice and sauté with just a little water. To his surprise, it worked out very well. It did take quite awhile to cook, since Rob had purchased brown rice, but it was worth the wait, and we had beer to drink while we were waiting for the food to get done.
After dinner we were still itching to get a few things done, so we spent awhile putting the outlet cover and switch plates back on the walls, or at least as many as we could find, and on the walls which were already dry. Eventually we decided to call it a day, and have one more beer before we went to bed around 10:00 p.m.