Category Archives: Home

Habitat for Chipmunkity

Remember that stone wall? Well, the chipmunks have moved in, turning my rustic landscaping project into a condo for yard rodents. It seems that I inadvertently created a system of caves that suit the little buggers perfectly, and now whenever I approach to water the flowers or pull weeds they dart out from between the cracks and dive into some other hidey hole in the yard.

Yes, chipmunks are delightful — until they get into your garage and start sharpening their teeth on things like doorframes, sheetrock, plastic hose spools… then they are a menace. It already appears that this year we have a bumper crop of chipmunks; providing them with a friendly environment could lead to an explosive problem.

What to do? First I’ll try repellents that make the wall smell — I think the stuff is made from fox urine or something — but if that doesn’t work, it may be time to take drastic measures. Perhaps we have to make an example of one to discourage the others. I loathe to hurt a small animal, but they’ve overstepped their bounds.

One other question: whose job is it to collect all that fox urine?

Everybody Must Get Stone

It seemed like a good idea at the time: rip out the rotting landscape timbers and replace them with stone.

And why not? Driving through Ireland confirmed that my mother’s people were genetically predisposed to stacking rocks in a straight line — and the Italian side? Fuggetaboutit! Everybody knows they’re handy with rocks, so this was not just building a wall, but in my blood.

I ordered two pallets like the one in this picture — which didn’t seem like a big deal until I saw them sitting on my lawn. Then they seemed like a very big deal.

There’s something scary about undertaking such a public project. The work site sits right on the corner in full view of the nosy neighbors and passerby who scrutinize each other’s property. These are the same people who sneer at the sorry state of my grass. Maybe doing something this would overshadow the turf problems, “Yes, you can grow grass — but I can build a wall out of rocks, MF!”

The biggest worry? That I would have more rock than I know what to do with. As it turned out, near the end of day two it looked like I might run out of stone — and indeed when it was finally done, there were less than ten rocks remaining, ones that were so large and poorly shaped there was no use for them in the wall. One of them was so big I couldn’t lift it alone.

If you’d like to take them off my hands, it’s $25 for all you can carry.

The Manly Arts: Toilet Repair

Gentlemen: You really should be able to fix a toilet.

I’m not saying that calling a plumber to do this job makes you a weenie — no, I would never suggest that. But replacing the guts of your toilet is a simple thing that you can actually do yourself — and it will impress other people in your household.

Speaking of home repairs, nobody’s going to fault you for bringing in an electrician; electricity can kill you or burn your house down — but what’s the worst that can happen with plumbing? You get wet.

No need to get into specifics on how to do it here, that’s what the internet is for. Suffice to say all you really need is a pair of pliers and maybe a screwdriver– and the only pliers you should have are Channellocks. A couple of bottles of beer couldn’t hurt, either.

After an hour or so, you can transform your anemic toilet into a supersonic poop machine that whisks away waste in a ferocious whirlpool of fury. You may get up in the middle of the night and flush it, just to marvel at how awesome it is — and how talented you are for making it happen. But that would be a waste of water.

Catbird Seat

Slowly but surely, the four yards of mulch is disappearing into the garden beds, one wheelbarrow at a time.  Mulchapalooza 2011. I do this every year. What happens to it all?

It’s tedious, but I’ve had company: a gray catbird. Honestly, I could not swear it’s been the same catbird all along; you’d have to be pretty sharp to recognize individual catbirds — or be a catbird.

Anyway, the catbird has gotten in the habit of flitting down near where I’m working and keeping an eye on me. It picks through the newly mulched beds and flys off with stuff, often zipping by just a few feet from my head.

In one corner of the yard the catbirds have a nest. It’s deep inside a thorny bush that I’ve been thinking of pulling out, but now that the catbirds are living there all bets are off.

In the last few days around the feeder there have been cardinals, gold finches, chickadees, grackles (raucous and voracious), mourning doves, blue jays, and downy woodpeckers. The squirrels and chipmunks busily work the ground for dropped seed.

I’ve read recently about people poisoning chipmunks because their tunneling is a nuisance. I would never do that, mostly because the chipmunks are amusing — and because when you start spreading poison around your yard, you don’t know what it may kill.

No, the chipmunks get a pass. But attention moles: you are on notice.

Rainy Saturday

Not much of a day for gardening, but a very good day to be a flower.

Garbage Night in America

All these years later, I can’t help but scan the sidewalks of Albany on Sunday night and early Monday morning. Why? Because Sunday night is garbage night.

When I first lived in the city, during the summer of 1983, I discovered that there were treasures to be harvested, especially around Center Square, where people were always throwing away quality items.

When you have barely any furniture anything looks good, and whatever we could carry or stuff into the back of a car we’d haul off to our apartment. If we later decided we didn’t want it — or found something better — it would just go back where it came from, the curb.

Old urges die hard. On just one block, I recently spied a desk and chair, a couple of lamps, and a bookcase. That’s like a whole room worth of furniture.

But when you practice the art of garbage picking things sometimes end badly. Several items were hastily discarded when they began to emit the unmistakable aroma of cat urine — and there are some things you should never take off the sidewalk.

I learned this the hard way after dragging a queen size mattress and box spring up into my apartment in Plattsburgh. My big new bed was the envy of my roommates — until mysterious bug bites started showing up all over my body.

Those things went back onto the street, of course. Both were gone within hours, off to another apartment where someone else would discover that sometimes garbage really is garbage.

Getting Lit at Xmas

I learned my lesson last year with those awful blue-tinged “white” LED lights that I strung around the front porch post. This year it was back to good old-fashioned light bulbs.

Drive around town and you’ll see many more people using the LEDs. To me, their cold and steady glow feels sterile.

With incandescent bulbs, you’ll pay more for electricity, but they’re dirt cheap to buy. We’re talking $2.50 per hundred at Lowe’s. There are 2300 lights on that tree in this picture, so you do the math.

On Long Island, America’s headquarters for good taste and style, Newsday finds that the debate rages on, but I’m with this guy:

Keith Buerkert of Island Park, another Christmas-light fanatic, is turned off by LEDs.
“I’m still using the regular lights because I don’t like the way the LEDs shine,” said Buerkert. He has almost 12,000 incandescent lights in his display, he said, and runs a side business installing lights for neighbors.
“I don’t like the [LED’s] color. They’re not as bright as the others,” Buerkert said.

It would be goofy to romanticize something as trivial as a tiny light, but strip away the heat of an incandescent bulb, the brightly burning and fragile filament that glows hotly in the night, and you really take a little something out of Christmas.

Just call me goofy.

Bat Woman

Estimable Times Union blogger Roger Green wrote this week about bats bringing chaos to his home sweet home. If you’ve ever had a bat in the house, you know how disruptive it can be, even though they are just tiny, little, winged insect eating machines.

People are afraid of bats on a visceral level, but the truth is that you should be wary because they may carry rabies. How do you know a bat is rabid? You don’t, so it’s best to get them out of your house — even if it is fun to watch the cats chase after them.

The New York State Health Department made this video to show you how to catch a bat in your house. Watch how this woman fearlessly takes on the bat, presumably after her husband ran from the room screaming like a little girl. That’s him standing outside the door handing her bat catching supplies.

Gentlemen: if you find a gal who can catch bats, she’s a keeper.

Tra$h Talk

My wife, Ann, came in from walking the dogs with a big idea. “Maybe you should start taking our garbage to the dump.”

One of my New Year’s resolutions is to wait a minute before opening my mouth so I waited a minute before opening my mouth.

It turns out some of our dog walking neighbors told her how they started going to the dump to save money. Now, rather than paying to have the garbage truck come on Thursday morning, they stuff their car with bags of trash once a week head to the town landfill. Instead of forking over $7.50 a week, they pay $1 for each 30 gallon bag.

Let’s do the math. In my neighborhood you’ll pay about $30 per month, or $360 per year, for trash pickup. If you go DIY and take three bags of garbage a week at the dump it will run you $12 a month. That’s $18 less, or $216 a year. Hmmm… I could have saved over $3000 if I’d been going to the dump for the last 15 years. If I’d taken that money and saved it in a jar I could go on a great vacation. Or put it toward tuition or something.

I actually like the dump. I’ve gone there lots of times after cleaning out the basement or ripping up a carpet or whatnot. If you find other people’s trash interesting, the dump is like going to a museum. But here’s the bottom line: do you really want to fill up your car with crap once a week and drag it down to the dump?

“Maybe you can start taking our garbage to the dump. And you can spend the money we save on whatever you want.”

Next year I’ll try waiting two minutes before opening my mouth.