Summer Weekend Classes for DIYers

Class Schedule — May 30–31, 2009

Muscle-Building Basics — Rocks and Bricks

Feel the burn in your biceps! To prepare for a new patio, participants remove heavy pieces of cut stone from a stack, carry them approximately 50 steps uphill, then restack them. Next, students pull flagstone and rocks from stacks in their own yard and restack them (temporarily) in neighbor’s yard. Class finishes by moving 100 or so bricks from one stack to another, 20 feet away.

Trees and Fences for Couples

Couples practice teamwork and tact as they cut down and trim trees and shrubs in the abandoned yard next door. (Note: Class requires use of 7-ft pole pruner with chainsaw on the end.) Extra credit for cutting out and removing wire fencing installed by their home’s previous owner — now hopelessly entangled in thorny barberry — without killing themselves or their partners.

Appeasement 101 — Wood, Wood, and More Wood

One participant appeases the other by loading a giant pile of wood from a month’s-ago porch demo into old pickup truck, with no clear idea of where to get rid of it. Appeasee practices appropriate gratefulness and diplomacy (refraining from suggesting abandoning both pickup and wood at nearest junkyard).

Furniture Refurbishment — What Not to Do

Students learn humility by improperly priming a small outdoor table. “Time-saving” primer-paint combo doesn’t stick, and must be scraped/scoured off so table can be repainted using different primer. (Students earn bonus humility points by painting two coats before acknowledging it’s not working.)

Improvisational First Aid

Participants receive first aid kit of ibuprofen, eye drops, allergy pills, sewing needles, aloe gel, potato chips, crunch-n-munch, iced tea, wine, and beer, and must decide how to best treat various cuts, scrapes, splinters, bruises, allergies, muscle aches, and random pains.

I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.
~ Mark Twain

One for the scrapbook

I’ve looked at a pile of junk under the breakfast room window in the driveway for, oh, a couple of years. It’s on top of the last unfinished bit of the Great Driveway/ Retaining Wall Project of ’07 (been waiting for the contractor to return and give us a price since last fall), and consists of a giant metal garbage pail and lid that used to be buried in the ground near the garage (now filled with old plumbing parts, the metal hinges and such from our old garage doors, and lengths of old electrical wire), various pipes from our sewer and plumbing projects, and the remnants of some metal shelving that disintegrated in the shed.

I’ve complained about it about 742 times, and whined about just throwing it away. But Mike was adamant: It had to go to the scrap yard. It could be recycled, and we’d get some money for it.

Last year, he got $20 for some wire and other junk he took to the yard.

I laughed.

He probably spent a couple hours collecting and cleaning up the stuff to take, and another hour at the scrap yard. Plus the gas to get there, etc. I’m all for recycling, but the ROI just wasn’t there for me in this case (and that’s when prices for scrap were through the roof — demand from China and all that).

When he returned, he told me what an ordeal it was. Apparently, the scrap yard is run like a prison camp. You better know the drill (which is not intuitive, nor spelled out in any way), or burly men yell at you.

I got to see it firsthand when we finally, finally, finally, with much joy and giddiness on my part, loaded up the truck on Saturday morning to get rid of the pile of junk under the breakfast room window.

The scrap yard is at the end of a typical city residential street — you pass houses perched close together on both sides, then suddenly there’s a massive scrap yard in front of you.

We got into a line of 3 or 4 vehicles in front of us — not moving much because coming the other way is a line of vehicles that have already dropped off scrap, and you take turns stopping at a building that really does look like a lock-up facility. You’re supposed to stop in a particular place, because the road has a scale in it that will weigh your vehicle (the “before” weight). But no one tells you that. If you stop short or go too far, you get yelled at.

When you finally get positioned, a guy yells out to ask your name, then looks out a window at what you have to offer (everyone brings pick-up trucks or trailers). Most people then get out of their truck while it’s weighed — though I haven’t figured out why.

Then the guy yells out some instructions about where to go to deposit the scrap you have, to the tune of “left, right, up the hill, see the guy working.” If you have a mixed load — some iron, some copper, etc., you’ll have to go through the drill a couple of times.

This is where it really gets fascinating.

I didn’t think to bring my camera, but Mike had his phone. We surreptitiously snapped a few photos — afraid of being yelled at (or shot) as industrial spies or something. Mike said innocently, no pun intended, “Just tell them it’s for your scrapbook,” which I laughed delightedly at.

On your left-right-up-the-hill journey, you pass massive piles of scrap — like these cubes (cars?).


Or these, which I think Mike said were brake something-or-others.


The coolest thing is that when you “see the guy working,” he turns out to be operating a huge magnet on a crane. You unload your scrap and he picks it up with this giant magnet and dumps it in a pile. It was scary being so close to it, and you wonder that it doesn’t rip the fillings from your teeth or scoop up your truck or the guy’s next to you.


You see weird abandoned (I think) buildings — was this a trailer or something to do with the railroad that runs alongside?


The whole thing is very Apocalypse Now.


Note the houses in the background — quite the scenic view.


After dropping off your scrap, you proceed back down the hill to the lock-up building, wait in the line for your “after” weigh-in, and then pull over and proceed into the building to get paid.

Mike returned in a few minutes, clutching a receipt and…a $10 bill.

Our 45 minutes or so of time and 2 years of looking at junk yielded us $10, which we promptly blew $7 of buying pastries at the bakery on the way home. (Our neighbor told us she recently took a washer and dryer there and got $7.50.)

Last year — we may have gotten $20 for the same load (200 lbs.), but naturally the economic slowdown has hit everywhere.

So that was our Saturday morning. And you know what — the adventure’s not over. We were 5 minutes from the place when Mike yelled “Oh crap!” (or words to that effect). Seems we forgot to load the aluminum storm door that’s been in the way in the garage since we replaced it last year. Hell — maybe we’ll get $2 for it (I think crap I mean scrap aluminum is $0.35 a pound right now.)

Actually, the fascination factor was worth the hassle (this time) — I’ve never been to such a place and it was pretty cool. And, it’s good for the planet.



You learn something every day if you pay attention.
~ Ray LeBlond

Beauty in simplicity

As I was browsing through the latest This Old House magazine the other night, I saw a suggestion that people write in about their longest-running, never-finished house project. Boy could I relate. And I guess it was a little comforting to know we are not alone in our disheveled state (not really, but I think it’s supposed to be comforting).

My neighbor hit upon a smart, simple solution, though — the same one we had come up with just a few days before.

You see, she knows all about (because she can see) our trail of half-finished works in progress. She looked over at the giant dirt pile in the driveway for more than a year while the retaining wall awaited. She’s seen us transform the back yard from blah and overgrown to a nice little garden — collapsed fire ring notwithstanding. She’s seen us disassemble the front porch and leave it that way for a while now.

All winter long, when she saw Mike out in the garage with the table saw, she knew it was because of the powder room. When she invited us to her St. Paddy’s Day feast, we almost didn’t go because we were working on the powder room. When we were late to emerge in the yard this spring, she asked why and we told her — “It’s the powder room.” (and we’ve been sick).

Sunday, when she walked over (with a beer for Mike) to see what all the commotion on the front porch was about, she had a suggestion…the voice of wisdom from a woman who all but single-handedly refurbished her childhood home when she moved in a few years ago.

Her suggestion: “You’ve lived without the powder room this long, why not just close the door and come back to it next winter?”

You know, I think that’s just what we’re gonna do.

After all, who would know (or care) if what what lies beyond the small door in the front hall… (HA! Just noticed the devil cat lurking on the landing — spooky!)


is this…


or this…?


Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.
~ Confucius

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