First Project: De-Landscaping, Part 2

Following the success of shrub removal from the front of the garage, I moved on to the other garden bed.  This was going to be a bigger challenge.  In all, there were two dozen plants in this bed that needed to be dug up and some had roots going down 8 inches or more with a diameter of over an inch.  It took more than just a few days, it was a week-long project and it wiped me out.

The project took my entire arsenal of tools: the sharpened shovel, the digging bar, the hatchet, the bow rake, and even a new tool, a combination hoe and cultivator – “the hoevator” – were used at various points.

The shrub removal was made exponentially more difficult by the vine that had consumed the entire bed.  For as bad as it was in the previous bed, this was at least ten times worse.  It was like a ground of its own.  The cultivator tore that up with ease, although it resulted in mounds of vine carcasses.

The garden was walled off by those generic stone wall pieces that never stand up to time.  The retaining walls had sunk into the ground, or fallen over, or got pushed out of symmetry.  Yet another thing that needs to be removed.

This is how it started:


This angle really shows how badly the vine had taken over the shrubs.


On the first day, I brought my assistant.  She wasn’t of much help.  That humungous palm tree in the background?  That’s a topic for a future post.  Yes, It’s coming out, too.


After the first day, I got the bulk of the shrubs removed.  Because of the masses of vines, it doesn’t look like much has been done at all.  Also, I have well over a dozen baby palm trees growing in the bed.  That’s not something I want to deal with.


A couple of days and a little more progress.  You can see how badly the house was stained from these shrubs.  Terrible.


The next day, I removed the last of the stumps.  I broke out the hoevator and ripped up a ton of roots and vines.  Unbelievable how the shrub roots snaked all around the bed.  Now it actually looks a little smoother.  A tiller would be awesome right now, but that’s not in the plans.


Finally, I bleached the walls.  I still have another few shots to do on it, too.  But this project is more or less complete.


Second Project: Fix Washing Machine

While I am working outside doing the de-landscaping, there is an inside project that I can tackle.  When I first moved into the house, I purchased a Siemens washer and dryer set.  The washer, a front-load model, did its job well for over 10 years, but it was really showing its age.  The gasket seal was repulsive with mold stains.  I have pictures, but out of embarrassment, I’m not posting them.   Also, the machine vibrated and banged like it was trying to commit suicide.  Did you know front load washing machine had shock absorbers?  They do, and when the shocks go south, this is what it sounds like.  This is a dry spin cycle with a load of towels.

I found a website ( that carried parts for my somewhat rare washer model and purchased the gasket and shocks.  Over the course of a few hours over two days (I’m learning when to stop out of frustration), I got everything changed out.  I think it is definitely for the better.  Look at the difference between the old shock and the new:


The old beat-up shock is on the bottom.  When I removed it, the shock just expanded and contracted with zero resistance – none.  My test spin with the towels actually caused it to spit out a bunch of grease into the body of the washer.  It was dead.

After all that effort, I reloaded the towels and did another test spin cycle.  This is the result:

Aside from nearly eliminating the vibration, the drum was able to spin much, much faster.  It sounds like a turbojet engine.

This was about a $150 fix.  It should give me years more service out of the washer.  I’ll definitely be much more proactive with drying the gasket after my weekly laundry sessions, so hopefully, I don’t end up with the massive mold issues that I had before. The most important thing to me is that this is the first item on my list I can cross off.  As I progress on the de-landscaping, that will probably be the next one off the list.  There’s still plenty of time before the house is emptied and I can start doing major inside projects.

First Project: De-Landscaping, Part 1

After a day to settle down from the realization that the house was completely mine, I dove into my list of changes I wanted to make.  A lot of the inside items can’t be started until the house is cleared out, but this is an outside item.

I have hated the shrubs in front of the house since day one, 10 years ago.  They have become unwieldy; they butt up against the house; they are growing unevenly and have holes and gaps; and they have become consumed with this evil, satanic vine.  So, they are all coming out.  In their place, it’s just going to be grass.  And I’ll decorate the front with plants in containers that I can move, or update, or trash when they grow out of scale.

So, after extensive research, I got to buy some tools.  The #1 new tool in my arsenal: a digging bar, also known as a landscaping bar or San Angelo bar.  It’s a 16 pound rod of iron with a point at one end and a thick flat blade at the other – intimidating as hell.  This is used to cut through roots, of which I have an abundance.  I also bought a hatchet and some files to sharpen my new blades.

I have two beds of shrubs I need to remove.  The first one started like this:


I began by cutting the shrubs at the base using a lopper, which was an unexpectedly difficult task.  Shrubs grow with lots of different branches and they wind around all over the place.  Added to the mix was the evil vine, which tied everything together.  Since I was doing this after work before the sun went down, I only had a couple of hours each day.  At the end of day one, I ended up with all the shrubs cut down.


You can see how badly the wall became stained from being blocked all those years.  That’s going to take some effort to clean up.

Day two and three I really got to use the digging bar, which was awesome and horrible at the same time.  Lifting and slamming down a 16 pound weight over and over is a workout like no other.  But, the result was worth it.  On the first round, I got out 4 stumps – everything around the palm trees.  The next day, I got the ones in front of the windows.

Something that hasn’t been mentioned is the sago palm at the corner of the walkway.  What a boneheaded idea by the previous owners.  That palm just kept growing outward and blocking the walkway.  In years past, I kept cutting it down further and further until it just ended up as nothing more than a stump.  But for all my effort, I wasn’t able to remove the stump back then.  With my new digging bar, the odds were tilted in my favor and I kicked its ass.

So at the end of day three of this project, I cleared the shrubs, lowered the grade of the earth and (mostly) cleaned up the wall:



Community Service

My house is in a community that doesn’t have an HOA.  This, in most all cases, is pretty good.  Overall, there aren’t a lot of bad folks around, with cars on blocks in the front yard and terrible senses of aesthetics.  But, not having an HOA means we have to take care of each other, and in today’s modern world, that is a very hard sentiment to come by.  I’ll admit, I am on a conversational level with only two of my neighbors and on a wave/greeting level with one other.  That’s pretty lame.  But, I’m hoping to improve on that shortcoming this year.  One of the key ways of doing this is being outside and having opportunities to talk to them.

Our street has a shared mail cabinet with boxes for each household.  I’m not sure who’s supposed to take care of this unit.  Is the Post Office supposed to?  I’ve never seen it cleaned.  Over the years it has gotten pretty disgusting, with algae and lichen on it.  Well, see for yourself.

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Since I wanted to become more involved in my community and also because I was sick of seeing the mailbox in this condition, I set to work on it.  After work one day, I filled a bucket with water and scrub sponges, got a spray bottle of Simple Green and a plastic scraper, then went out to the mailbox.

I scraped and scrubbed for quite a while.  A couple of cars came up to get their mail.  I got one enthusiastic thank you for the job I was doing.  I guess that should be enough.  The important part is that every time someone gets their mail, they will look at a nice clean mailbox.  If it doesn’t inspire some sort of community pride to see an improvement like that, at least it won’t instill any feelings of defeat by seeing an unmaintained mailbox.

Here’s the thing – and I’ve seen this here in my neighborhood and at my GF’s place.  When one person starts improving their house, it drags others into the cycle, where they need to improve theirs.  In my area, so many people are repainting their houses.  It’s all happening at once (and it’s something on my list too).  When houses are neglected, it works the other way.  Other people use the bad houses as a measure and say, “at least I’m not that bad.”  So by eliminating the lower-bound measures, or “raising the floor”, people raise their standards.  And in this way, a whole community improves.

All Signals Go

It’s been a couple weeks since the last update and a month since I started this round of negotiating.  If all goes well, we will have this wrapped up this weekend and the countdown begins for move-out.  I expected it all to be done in a week.  Yeah, right.

Today, after a ridiculous series of document corrections and delayed responses eating up day after day, I visited the attorney’s office to do the signing.  This is the process that my co-owner and I are taking.  Of course some parts can vary, but this is one option.

I signed two copies of the quit claim deed and two copies of the contract.  The contract was just a signature; the deed was notarized with two witnesses.  These two originals are going to be overnighted to my co-owner’s attorney.  My co-owner will sign the deed with two witnesses and a notary and also sign the contract.  Then the papers will be brought back to me and together we will go through the house contents determining what stays and what goes.  When I get the fully signed deeds (yes, both) in hand, I hand over the check.  I get to keep one copy of the contract as does my co-owner.

I requested next Monday off work so I can do the final step of this process.  I will take both signed originals of the deed to the county clerk and have them “recorded”.  What happens is the clerk takes both copies of the deed and stamps them as recorded.  The clerk keeps one copy and I get one copy.  If my co-owner wants a copy of the recorded deed, that can be provided, but I keep the original forever.  So that’s why there are two originals of the deed.  Believe it or not, but you don’t have to record the quit claim deed with the county.  Why anyone wouldn’t do it is beyond me.  You’d be asking for a huge headache in title searching when you go to sell the property.

Also on Monday, I’ll contact the mortgager and find out what steps are needed to modify the mortgage.

Now, all that cost me $3000 just in attorney fees.  Could you do it yourself?  Absolutely.  The only thing this gained me with the deed drafting was a sense of propriety – the deed was pretty much a fill-in-the-blank form.  The contract being professionally prepared might be worth a little because self-authored contracts could have their wording picked apart in court and you could lose out.  The contract is the defense against someone claiming the quit claim deed was forced upon them.  The contract states what the person is receiving in return for the deed and that the transaction is voluntary.

Again, the process isn’t that important, but I gave it a lot more weight than it probably deserved.  At different points, I thought we would all meet together in a room and sign everything all at once, or that the documents would be emailed (or mailed) blank, mailed back signed, then I would sign them, and also sometimes I stuck a document review step in there.  I had no idea how to do the process effectively.  In the end, it doesn’t seem to matter.  All you need is an executed deed and a contract to cover your ass.  How you get there isn’t important.  We both chose to involve attorneys so that there would be uninvolved parties making sure neither of us got taken advantage of.  It’s costly protection, for sure.

If all goes well, next week is a fresh start and this blog will become what it was intended to be.  A home makeover documentarium.