Category Archives: Adventures in Home Ownership


Yesterday, the garage door opener had an…interesting failure.

It seems that a nut worked loose from its bolt, whereupon nut & bolt ejected themselves from the rail they had been helping to hold together, these last fourteen years. The rail bent in the middle, preventing the slidey-thing (officially known as the ‘trolley’) from sliding. The garage-door opener itself, meanwhile, had no clue there was a problem. It kept trying to open the door, until finally it threw off the chain (that had been connected to the trolley).

Silly garage-door opener, it’s supposed to detect a blocked or jammed door, and do something more sensible than trying to tear itself to pieces.

Fortunately, nothing was broken; I reassembled the rail, coaxed the chain back on the sprocket, and…it still didn’t work. It seems the opener keeps track of where the door is supposed to be, which – due to the thrown chain – no longer matched reality. When I pushed the button, the opener tried to close the door, even though it was already closed.

I suppose I should’ve seen that coming.

After a bit more foolery, I managed to get the garage door opener and the garage door to agree on the latter’s location (i.e., closed) – but the door stopped four inches or so off the driveway. Oops.

A bit of RTFM – the previous owners gave us a set of appliance manuals, along with the keys – revealed the existence of a pair of adjustment screws, to control how far up & down the door will go. A bit of adjustment, and the door will close. Almost.

Perhaps further adjustment is required?

(The garage door itself is looking pretty beat up. I fear we’ll be replacing it, one of these days.)


The silverware drawer in the kitchen suffered a hardware failure the other day: the plastic bracket at the rear of the right-side rail broke, and the rail came loose.

The kitchen cabinets are twenty years old, and that particular drawer holds more weight than any of the others, so I’m not really surprised that this happened.

Time for a bit of carpentry, thought I.

Jennifer went to Menards and bought a set of replacement rails; once these were home, they didn’t seem quite sturdy enough to hold up a drawer full of silverware. We returned them & tried Home Depot instead.

At Home Depot, we discovered that our cabinets use non-standard hardware: Home Depot stocks 22″ and 24″ rails, but ours are…23″. (I imagine the contractor who built the house picked these up cheap, either from the low bidder or from his brother-in-law.)

We went with 22″ rails. (Would 24″ have been the better choice? I’ll be gnawing that question for the next ten years. At least.)

Installing the new rails seemed straightforward enough: attach the brackets to the rear of the cabinet, insert the rails, attach other end of the rails to the front of the cabinet. Easy-peasy, bob’s-your-uncle, etc., etc.

Alas, no. Getting everything lined up – so the drawer fit inside the cabinet and rolled smoothly in & out – proved rather difficult. That I was lying on the floor, with the upper half of me inside the cabinet, didn’t help. (Actually, it hurt. A lot.)

Sam helped at one point, sitting inside the cabinet to mark drill points while I held things steady & level. Jennifer helped a great deal, keeping track of tools & hardware, holding the flashlight, and in general being a calming influence.

We spent a few hours on this, Sunday afternoon, and…it wasn’t quite right. The drawer almost fit in the cabinet, and almost rolled smoothly in & out – except when it got stuck & wouldn’t roll at all.

“Let’s finish this tomorrow,” I said.

Monday afternoon, it occurred to me that I’d been going about it all wrong. The brackets attached to a small board that in turn was attached to the rear of the cabinet – if I could get that out, I could do all the measuring, drilling & screwing-in while sitting comfortably at the kitchen table.

It took a minute or two to dismantle what had taken hours of work to assemble; then I arranged everything neatly on the table and started over.

The second try was quicker, easier, and – unlike the first – actually works.

That’s the thing about carpentry. Doing it the right way is quick, easy & painless. Doing it any other way is to suffer the tortures of the damned. I must try to remember this lesson for any future projects that may arise.


This afternoon, Jennifer and I hung another shade in the tv room.

There are four windows in the tv room, plus a door (leading to the sun room) that has a window. Previous owners of the house – there were several; I don’t know which of them is responsible – hung black plastic Venetian blinds on all five. These were not of the highest quality. No, words like cheap and flimsy come to mind.

Even so, the blinds might have survived, had the current owners – i.e., Jennifer and myself – remained childless; but we did not. Over the years, little hands inflicted considerable damage.

Rather than look at mangled blinds any longer, we have been replacing them, slowly over the last month or so, with fancy new shades. (Why slowly? Because I’m lazy. Thanks for asking!) Today’s project was shade #3.

The procedure involves holding a level against the wall, and drawing some guide lines for positioning the brackets from which the shade hangs. (Not only level, but even with the other shades. This is harder than it looks.) Next comes drilling of holes, driving of screws, and – the big one – clipping-in of shades.

It takes about half an hour, if everything goes smoothly. (A professional would likely finish all five in that time. I am not a professional.)

So: three down, two to go. (Or should I say three up?) I imagine we’ll finish by spring.

After I had drawn all the lines needed for shade-hanging, I paused for a moment – then added, just above the window frame, a message: I was here, 1-19-2014. It will remain hidden until the far-off(?) day when somebody takes down shade #3.


This evening, just after 6:30, two fellas brought to stately Rice Manor the dishwasher we ordered last weekend.

They were casually dressed, impressively tattooed, and somewhat disheveled: we were their seventh appointment of the day, and it showed. But they made short work of removing the old dishwasher & installing the new one.

I took pictures. Perhaps I will post a few.

Dishwashers are simple things. They have three connections: power, water and drain; two height-adjustable feet in front, for leveling; and a pair of screws holding it to the counter. In a pinch, we could’ve installed it ourselves. (I doubt that Jennifer would agree with me on that.)

We were a bit concerned at what we’d find, when the old dishwasher was removed – dead mice? – but it was surprisingly clean.

We’ve been living here thirteen years, and in that time we’ve replaced every major appliance: dishwasher, stove, microwave (twice!), refrigerator, clothes dryer, furnace and air conditioner…but not the water heater.

I figure that one’s next.


The dishwasher here at Stately Rice Manor has been acting up lately. It sounds normal enough when it’s running, but seems to have lost power. Our plastic cups aren’t tossed around like they used to be; and the more substantial ones don’t always get clean.

It has other problems. The top rack is losing its plastic coating, and the wire underneath is rusting. The bottom rack is missing about a quarter of the…prongs? spikes? – the pointy things that hold the dishes upright have been breaking off, one by one, for a long time. Having a large dead zone like that does rather complicate loading an entire meal’s worth of dishes.

So today we went to Sears and bought a replacement. It was an interesting experience.

Dishwashers start at $300, and the high end models are over $1,000. (“For that much,” I said to Jennifer, “it had better load & unload itself.”) The prices do not include installation, which is a bit misleading. I imagine nearly everyone who buys a dishwasher from Sears will have Sears install it, which adds $150 to the cost. It would be more honest to include that in the advertised price, and offer a corresponding discount to the (few) do-it-yourself types out there.

Proudly displayed on each model is its loudness rating – measured in decibels, as if potential buyers had any grasp of what that means. How loud is 54 decibels? Is there any meaningful difference between 54 and 51? The really high-end models were in the forties, which is effectively silent. (Is it worth $1,000 to have a dishwasher that quiet? I think not.)

The sales clerk really pushed the service plan, to the point Jennifer was getting annoyed by the hard sell. Sam & I were off looking at electronics, so we missed all that. (Jake was at school.)

Our new dishwasher arrives next week. And there will be much rejoicing.


Today’s household-maintenance project was an unusual one: cleaning the refrigerator. It had accumulated several months’ worth of drips, crumbs & spills, and was looking pretty bad.

We all pitched in – even Sam, who complained bitterly about having to get up from his Minecraft session. (And just after coming home from shoe-shopping! O the injustice!) The threat of losing his computer for the rest of the day didn’t improve his mood, but did get him moving.

First, we took out all the food, and piled it on the kitchen table. (If we’d had a dozen coolers, and a truckload of ice, we might have used them; alas, we did not. Instead, we tried to finish before things warmed up too much.)

Then we removed all the shelves, drawers, attachments, etc., etc. Only afterward, when the refrigerator was empty – and looking much smaller than usual – did the idea of taking a picture occur to me. If we’d had one, the reloading might have gone more quickly.

Jennifer did all the washing, Jake & Sam did all the drying; I reinstalled all the shelves (more or less where they had been before – though without a picture, who can be sure?).

While all this was going on, the refrigerator beeped its open-door alarm with increasing desperation, then finally gave up. (It even shut off the light, making it hard to see what I was doing.)

Beginning to end, it took perhaps forty-five minutes.


Two of the more important machineries here at Stately Rice Manor are acting up a bit.

Our television – just five months old – has developed an annoying fuzziness in the audio. It sounds as if one of the speakers has worked loose, or failed outright. It doesn’t interfere much with playing Skyrim – at least, Sam hasn’t complained – but it tends to spoil regular programming.

Long ago, I was in the habit of watching television with the audio muted. That might become necessary again, if we can’t get the silly thing fixed.

The other dysfunctional machine is a bit more serious: after keeping us warm all winter long, the furnace has chose today’s (rather mild) cold snap to go on the fritz. It runs, but it blows cold air: not very useful.

Tomorrow, Jennifer will call the furnace-repair people. (Usually, they come out the same day. The house will stay warm enough until then.) I imagine we’re looking at another moderately-expensive repair – $300 or so – but with every service call I worry: is this the time we’ll hear, “You need a new furnace”?

I really do not want to buy a new furnace….


We used to have three small trees in the yard here at Stately Rice Manor: short things, dark red leaves, trunks & branches that grew in any direction but vertical. I have no idea what species they were.

The years were not kind to them. (Neither were the Japanese beetles.) We’ve been trimming dead limbs for a few years now; last year, tree #1 had to come down. This year, trees #2 and #3 were done in by the drought.

Removing them has been on the household to-do list for a while. Today turned out to be tree-chopping day.

Sam and I collected our gear – the pruners, a saw and a yard-waste bag – and headed out. Our technique: saw off a limb, prune the smaller twigs into one pile, cut the larger branches into short lengths (in a second pile); then, later, bag it all up.

Later, Jennifer & Jake joined in. It was a family bonding moment (if one ignored the grumbling from Jake, who didn’t want to join in).

After all the sawing and pruning, we had two trunks remaining: about four inches in diameter, two or three feet tall. They were too big for our saws, so Jennifer & I decided we needed something bigger.

A chain saw.

It’s an electric model – but not cordless; those are for professionals, or chumps – and fairly small. But it made short work of the two stumps. Jennifer and I took turns lopping off pieces of wood, but managed to avoid lopping off pieces of ourselves.

Now there’s a big pile of wood waiting for Wednesday’s yard-waste pickup.

(We have two more dead and/or dying trees in the back yard, but dealing with those can wait until spring.)


…and the new fence is finished. The crew – three cheery, friendly, but seriously weather-beaten fellas – nailed up the last planks around 11am.

They packed up their gear, collected from me the second-largest check I’ve ever written (the first being our down payment on Stately Rice Manor), and drove off.

I hated the old fence. It was old, half-rotten, always threatening to fall apart but never actually doing it. It was the neighborhood eyesore. I’m glad it’s gone.

As are the neighbors, I’m sure.

The fence project, day three

After a well-deserved day off, the fence guys returned to put up the rails & planks.

The fence is starting to look like a fence now, at least on one side. The others remain unfinished: when the temperature cracked 100, the fence guys packed up & went home.

They’ll be back tomorrow to finish up.

(It’s a cedar fence: very pretty, but not nearly as aromatic as I’d hoped.)