Wednesday, April 26, 2017

The Countdown Ticks On, the Work Less So

So the week has had its difficulties. The inspector from Austin Energy did not come out today to inspect our solar, even though he was scheduled. He seems to be in a pissing contest with the solar company and right now he wants a load assessment for our electrical system before he will approve the solar. So let me get this straight, I says, you want to know what appliances I have and what they draw in order to approve our solar? You don't have the right to tell me what devices I can or cannot have. You can tell me what kind of wire I have to have for what devices, you can tell me the total amperage I can draw at a time, but you absolutely, positively, cannot tell me what toys I may or may not have. This is NOT something you should even be considering during an inspection! He tries to tell me he's asking the solar company for all of this information for my own good... That didn't go very far with me. Then he says they wouldn't be so strict if I wasn't in the rebate program, i.e., asking for a rebate on our solar install... REALLY?!?!? I let that one go. He was pedantic enough in his defense of his requests to the solar company that I didn't have the heart to eviscerate him for the rebate statement.

Tomorrow, if I don't hear good things from the solar company regarding my inspection schedule, I am calling the chief inspector for Austin Energy and asking him to explain to me why they think they need to know all about my kilns, sous vide units, vibrator rechargers, etc. My loins are girded.

The pump on our RO system went out yesterday morning so we are not making any fresh water. What we have is what we have. Unfortunately the water from our well is so bad we can't drink it without RO processing (salt, sulphur, fluoride, among other nasties--not bacterial contaminants). Last night through this morning we weren't even able to pump the treated water that we had in the tank to the house. We had a trickle because the booster pump was not working. I looked at everything this morning, and it turned out the electrician yesterday knocked loose the breaker for the pump. Of course I didn't find the breaker--that was done by our sweet neighbor Dan who reseated the breaker and baths were saved for everyone. At that point we had 900 gallons of water to get us through till tomorrow night when the new pump is (hopefully) installed. Little did I know that Jessie had left her sink faucet wide open this morning so when the water came back on it gushed out. Two hours later I went in the house and heard what sounded like water running somewhere. By that time we were down to 450 gallons. Drink wine, save water. Ah.

I continue the countdown till the annual migration and I have serious concerns about the contractors finishing the landscaping projects--forget about the bathroom remodel, it's going to have to wait till fall. But I supposedly have truckloads of three different materials ordered for tomorrow morning, I have extra workers scheduled, and the plan will go forth. I have ceramics till 12:30, we'll see what it looks like when I get home.

So like I said: Drink wine. It saves water and, coincidentally, blood pressure and sanity!

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Tomorrow, Tomorrow, I Love You, Tomorrow

It was a day of frustrations, and a day of accomplishments. Sadly, more frustrations than accomplishments. On the plus side, I did get the glass for four lg kites, five med kites, 60 people, and 30 sm kites sent to Todd today--65 lbs total. I also finished the first post in the new bees blog. On the minus side, I didn't get any administrative/financial work done, nor did I get the letter written that I need to send out to my gallery clients apprising them of the studio closure for all of June, half of July, and half of August. Little Orphan Annie needs to come sing "Tomorrow" for me.

Tomorrow morning: the solar inspection. FINALLY! Now let's hope we pass.  And that's enough writing for me today. If you want to know more about the beeez, check out The Bees At Stone's Throw.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Another Week, Another Adventure

This week it really feels like everything is coming together--which is good because it's almost summer with the annual pilgrimage to Montana coming up, and I want everything done before we go.  It was another big day in the garden with the paths beginning to be laid and two more nucs of bees being hived. But I'm not going to say anything about the bees here anymore. Nope. The bees now have their own blog, The Bees At Stone's Throw. I'm not putting the url up yet as I am still working on the first post. It's long and detailed and will be done tomorrow. This will be where the hard-core bee people can go for a fix on hive activity (I want a bee cam). Glass Incarnate needs to get back to a more rounded blog that, if it's skewed at all, is skewed towards glass.

Speaking of glass I did another full kiln load today, and in spite of the warm temps outside, with the people door and one of the big roll-up doors open it was not too hot in the studio thanks to the breeze. Before I go to bed I need to schedule the UPS pick-up for tomorrow so I can get all the glass to Todd for him to work his wore magic. I am still waiting on Bill for metal stands for a couple of other orders, but those should come soon.

As I mentioned before, we are off to Montana soon. While we will be back mid-summer for a week or two, I still need to send out an email to all of our clients giving them the ship dates and order deadlines for summer so everyone can get work if they want it. Between the letter and a few other tasks I have scheduled, it looks like tomorrow is going to be a predominantly computer day. That's okay. After two days in a row on my feet in a bee suit (bee suits are toasty!), I'm ready for a day tapping my fingers (and packing and shipping glass).

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Today, Beeeeez!

Baby bee emerging chewing its way out of the cell.
Today was all about the road trip down to B Weaver Apiary and BeeGoods Mercantile in Navasota where Zaga and I took a two-hour class on bee husbandry (a funny term since all the workers and the queen are female as are Zaga and I, and our mates have no intention of coming anywhere near the bees!) and then we shopped. I ended up getting another hive as they had a cool one that is a hybrid between a Langstroth and a Top Bar, and Zaga got a Langstroth because it was pretty--green components and yellow components. I picked up the two nucs I had already paid for and then ended up getting another nuc and a package! We drove home with the hives, suits, tools and bees all int eh car, and only the bees flew around... The nucs were all supposed to be sealed, but there was a leak somewhere as between 50-100 bees escaped and were flying around the car during the 2+ hour drive home. I pretty much let them be till them came to the front of the car, but if they did, then I had to open a window on them and free them to the bee afterlife.

Examining a frame with NO GLOVES!
During our class Zaga and I were in full bee suits, socks, shoes, hats, veils, gloves... and our instructor was in a hat and veil. About 30 minutes into the class I got tired of feeling hampered and fat-fingered because of the gloves and I took them off. It was WONDERFUL, and I never felt threatened by the bees. Our instructor got stung a couple of times, but that was because she accidentally got them between her hands and the hive frames. Squeeze a bee and it will sting--motto of the day. She was very casual about it and just brushed the stinger out. It's important to remove the stinger right away as it is usually still attached to the venom sac which keeps pumping the toxin into you after the bee is already gone. When I do get stung for the first time, I hope to remain calm enough to remember that fact and act accordingly.

Zaga happy with the bee frame
When we got home, I emptied the package into one of my Langstroth hives and went to install the older nuc (the one that was prepared for me a few days ago) in the other one--only to discover I didn't have a deep brood box, I had two shallow boxes so the feeder and the frames of bees in the nuc wouldn't fit into either of them. Luckily, we had Zaga's new hive handy (I haven't unloaded the hybrid from the minivan yet) and it had a deep brood box on it so I went ahead and set it up. Tomorrow morning I'll set up the remaining two nucs in the Flow and hybrid hives. I have one more Top Bar nuc  and hive I ordered from someone locally (John Swann of Wicked Bee Apiary) coming mid-May, and Zaga has a nuc coming soon, so we'll be sitting on (obviously not literally!) six hives by the start of summer. Wheee! Honey and wax galore.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Today Butterflies Tomorrow Bees

Monarch caterpillar on the purple milkweed vine
If you build it they will come! Walking through the new garden with the spouse tonight (it's our path to the mailbox) and saw two (two!) monarch caterpillars decimating my milkweed! It's too bad I just planted it because I think a lot of the plants won't make it through the monarch larval stage as they haven't built up enough leaf reserves. In other garden news, the bee hives are all set up on stands which are on new concrete pads, the concrete footing around the pond was poured and the frames cleaned up today, and it rained all last night so I didn't have to water today (yay!).

I've still got it! Kite for On The Main
While I worked in the studio this afternoon, Dave worked in the apartment. The bookcases have now all been set up and filled with books. I made a list of the last few things we need so that Tuesday evening--barring all the photos, and registering, and setting up on-line with Home Away and/or Air B&B--the apartment will be ready to rent out. Friends and family, you always have first dibs (to stay, not to rent) except for during SXSW. :-)

In the studio I fired three full kiln loads and did a little unpacking/organizing, but I swear it's going to take more effort than I have in me to get it all unpacked and set up. At one box/container a day it would take well over a month. Then there's the textile studio and the wet studio (which also serves as the work area for jewelry, soap, torch-worked glass, and paper. I need fewer hobbies.

I have a studio cat--Kaiju rules supreme
Tomorrow morning Zaga and I are heading down to Navasota to take a two-hour beekeeping lesson and to pick up three hives worth of bees--two nucs and a package. Nucs, short for nuclear hives, have a queen, workers, and frames already started with brood, nectar (proto-honey) and bee bread (pollen for protein). All you do with them is take the wooden frames out of the cardboard box you bring them home in and install the frames in your existing hive. A package is just three pounds of bees scooped into a box with a new (to them) queen in a little matchbox looking contraption hanging it it with them. Eventually the workers will chew through the candy end on the so named queen cage, releasing her into the hive. She is initially put in the queen cage to keep the other bees from killing her. She needs a couple of days with her pheromones pervading the hive before the workers will accept her. To install the package of bees in your hive you take out the queen cage, open your hive, and shake the 10,000 bees  in the box into your hive. Doesn't that just sound fun? I think everyone should pick up a box with 10,000 bees in it and shake them out! Maybe I'll ask Zaga to video the procedure for tomorrow's post.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Living Off the Land

Let's actually do a post before 10:30 at night to see if I can stay awake for it...

Update on the garden: The concrete footing for the pond and for the first three beehives was poured today. Stripping of the bark off all the juniper cedar limbs that will be used for the garden furniture and structures continues apace with the stripped bark being used as a large-format ground cover in the cacti and on the back sides of the beds, and the outlining branches for the paths were all laid today. In general the week felt slow, like very little was accomplished, but in reality what got done was seed work for the next stages that is going to make the next parts go quickly. That's the hope anyway.

Sunday the bees come home to roost (like chickens, but smaller), and beginning Monday--except for the stream in the backyard, work is going to go from top to bottom of the property from now forward. We got a little off course by having live projects all over the yard. In some ways it made sense--work by task rather than by area so that, e.g., all of the weeding that needed to be done was done at once--front and back. But now we are moving into quantities of materials that make having all of them delivered at once for the entire yard impractical so we are going to go from man-to-man defense to playing the zone, as Dave used to say to describe alternative parenting strategies.

In the new garden--the top of the world--the pond walls will be set Monday, poly-vinyl will go down on the path areas, the irrigation pipe will be put down on top of it running to each of the new beds, and then the decomposed granite will be laid on all the paths. Those steps right there are going to make everything feel so much more done! Then it's just getting the rest of the pond and bog pond put together and beginning on the furniture. The furniture for that area is going to take some time as it's going to be made from the reclaimed limbs of juniper cedar and so will be a little more free-form and artistic and a little less quick. There are a couple of benches, a swing stand, trellis arches, obelisks for vines, and other cool wooden art pieces that will be designed as we go.

As they're finishing in the top of the world, the dirt for the front beds will be delivered and all the existing front beds needing it will be topped off, then covered with weed cloth, and mulched. Then we're getting several loads of river rock delivered. The existing river rock areas will be raked clear, weed cloth laid, the rock raked back over the top, and the new rock added to freshen and fill it up. The rain garden in the front is being held for later, and we're not even going around to the garage side of the front yard (where the deck in front of the sunroom is going to be replaced) for now.

A planter inspiration for the herb garden
After the front is done, we'll run decomposed granite down the north side of the house, and another boatload of topsoil will be delivered  for the backyard beds. Wash, rinse, repeat on filling the beds with new dirt, weed cloth, and mulch. Put mulch in the area under the live oaks, add some new yellow jasmine to the white jasmine growing up the deck, and the basic gardening is done back there. I will add a few more shrubs, plants and trees, but most of the hernage is done. Fun, creative touches to the back include tumbling recycled glass in a cement mixer to make into mulch for a couple of bed/walkways,  and building vertical, staggered-height boxes on the stone patio for herb garden.

The electrician is coming Monday to rewire the stream with 220, and to put switches for the pumps in the rain barrels up by where I turn on the hose, and revamping the existing hard-wired lighting. With the new wiring for the rain barrel pumps, I can easily switch from purified well water going through the hoses to water from the rain barrels when I'm watering in the backyard. Replacing the irrigation system is up in the air, and I haven't given up on finding a way to distill and use the waste water from our reverse osmosis system on the well. Jay has been working on designing a distiller cannibalized from a solar hot water heater that looks like it will process about 4-6 gallons of usable water an hour from any water source without breaking the bank...

...And with one thing and another (dinner and Serenity for two) it's now 10:00. If I really want to finish before 10:30, I should stop now. More garden news (and an update on the solar system approval) as it happens.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Clay Is Also Dirt...

So the secret to minimizing the itch and the hard white bump from fire ant bites is a buff puff and isopropyl alcohol. After I got nailed yesterday I dosed the bites in alcohol and scrubbed at them with an abrasive pad (for skin). Using the pad worked better than just dabbing at the stings with the alcohol--which makes sense. Fire ants aren't causing all the damage to your skin and reaction to the venom by biting you. They only bite you to get a good grip on you so they can swing their abdomens up under themselves to start stinging you. You can tell this is what's happening by looking at them--it looks like they're curled up on your body when they are attacking you. Anyway, other people swear by vinegar, but I am sold on alcohol, salt and a buff puff (or a Scotch Brite green scrubby pad from the kitchen in a pinch).

Thursday is my favorite day of the week because it begins with pottery class. Actually today began with me yelling at the solar company (again) about getting an inspector out here from Austin Energy to give us the rubber stamp of approval so we can Go Live. Pottery was definitely better than solar. I glazed my first wonky piece for the kiln, I under glazed a textured vase, and then glazed it, I trimmed a bowl, and I threw another little bowl. I was a ceramics machine! Today was the glaze demo in class, and my first day glazing in a couple of years. I had forgotten all the chemistry and science that goes into it. The glazes I put on my pieces today don't look anything like they will after firing. Part of that's because one piece not only has two glazes which will chemically react with each other, but it will also be fired in a soda firing. Explanation of that technique here. I dipped the other piece in a mint celadon glaze after underglazing it, and sadly forgot to take a picture of it. But the celadon glaze is iron rust brown before firing.

Now I'm off to sleep to ready myself for a piano lesson first thing tomorrow morning, followed by craft morning with Becky. Then the decomposed granite paths are going into the new garden tomorrow, and the concrete footer is being poured for the pond (they placed the forms today). Though that project really feels like it's been hanging forever, all I have to do ton console myself about its duration is to think of the solar project. We haven't sued yet...

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Worst Day Ever?

Today had the potential of being the worst day ever on the new house. Somehow I lucked out, and the badness was limited to about 15 minutes. So we have been working all over the yard, and this is Texas. Texas is famous for, among other things, a high number of nasty, stinging, biting, poisonous things that would as soon kill you as look at you. Today I ran afoul of one of them: The dreaded Fire Ant, Solenopsis invicta. There are currently lots of bare areas in the yard including the native grass/wildflower meadow which has a few things coming up (mostly weeds I think), but has mostly big, empty, dirt patches.

As we were reviewing one of the grasses coming up in great force in the yard (yellow nutsedge), I noticed four flat areas of hive activity. Jay thought they were termites getting ready to swarm. A few minutes later I stepped in one while trying to save our cow skull, Scully, from being overrun with them. I didn't notice right away--not till they were swarming up my ankles! Then I started swatting at them and trying to brush them off (while jumping up and down and squealing and telling Bobby to squirt them with the hose) and they were on my hands and arms. I finally got my shoes off and my feet rinsed clean of them, brushed most of them off my legs (they got up past my knees under my skirt) and brushed/squished the rest from my hands and feet. It still wasn't enough so I went in to the house and immediately pulled all of my clothes off in the hall... and then saw the worker out the side window studiously Not Looking At Me. We were both pretending No one  saw nothing...

After I was naked and the bites were starting to come alive, I went into the bathroom and tried to think what I read to do the last time I got a lot of bites. I remembered vinegar and alcohol, and I found the alcohol first. What luck! I scrubbed at my legs, feet, and arms with a defoliating pad soaked in alcohol, and when some extra alcohol splashed out, I mixed it with salt from a bath bar made of solid salt and rubbed it all over my legs, feet and arms. Now tonight I don't have any itches, and though I bites on top of bites, my skin feels fine. We'll see wait it looks like tomorrow. As of now (several hours later) none of the bites bother me in the slightest.

Now it's time to turn into a pumpkin (as the spouse snoring gently beside me on the couch would say) and give in to the tremendous predisposition of my eyelids to close and stay closed. Like my gently snoring spouse on the couch next to me. It was a long day for everyone.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

A Sick Day

This afternoon I gave myself permission to take a sick day. Of course by that time it wasn't a whole day, but I spent much of the afternoon just lying on the bed. With cats. Cats apparently have to pretend you have a lap even when you don't. And they are very persnickety over who gets this prime real estate. Pavlova was first to pounce on the opportunity to snuggle with mom this afternoon, and when Kaiju showed up he was quite disgruntled to find her already in what he considers his spot. But (for once) they settled in amicably and we all sort of dozed. I blame the ham. Or the caffeine in the coffee and tea I drank. Whatever it was, I had a headache, upset stomach, vertigo, and a racing heart. It was good just to chill for a bit. Unfortunately it meant that I didn't get my glass work done, but I just wasn't up to it. Tomorrow.

This week in the garden has been slow. The general contractor who runs the crew didn't come yesterday as he had a family thing, and he didn't come today as he was sick. The concrete guys were in a car accident yesterday and spent today trying to get their truck out of impound so they didn't show up (either day) either. One of the part-time workers quit last week because he was told (not by me) that he couldn't wear shorts--against the GC's policy--on the job. Any kind of long-term contracting is very much a game of hurry up and wait. But I rescheduled my bee pick-up from tomorrow to Sunday (yes sir, yes sir, three hives full!) so I have a bit of breathing room, and I confabbed with the three main workers today and gave them a list of things they can start on in the morning while we wait to see if the GC and the concrete guys show up.

Now it's after 9:00, which is a perfectly reasonable time to go to sleep. Hope I actually CAN sleep tonight--last night was rough as I think my upset stomach started about 1:00 am. At least I got some good Words With Friends time in.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Giving Up For the Night

Another day, another plant in the ground--or, in the case of today, two and a half flower beds worth of plants in the ground.  All I have left to place are the shrubs, trees, and vines--and none of them are going in the new raised beds. The result? I don't have enough plants to fill the beds. In part this is because I haven't worked the seeds into the planting, and at this point I don't know if I'm going to. Maybe I'll plant them all in back or on the side. If I don't plant them this year, I'll need more potted plants.

Right here is where I would normally natter on about all the plants that were put in, or some other aspect of the day. But I am just too pooped. We are newly home from the Dr. Who season premiere which we saw on the big screen (I love Fathom Events!) and I had a VERY long day with the solar install company, the City of Austin electricity workers, my regular landscape installers, and life. So I'm going to save a longer, better post for another night. Now I am going to close my twitching eyelids, and dive deep into them. Goodnight all.