My home, my castle: Backyard renovation - Day 6

Over the weekend we realized that the retaining wall created a much more level area above it than we expected, so we decided to lay more sod and add another zone to the as yet to be installed sprinkler system. The patio was supposed to be poured today, but with the ground still very wet, we're holding off on that until tomorrow. While nothing else was done today, the crew did get the sprinkler system installed.

I spent 2 hours in the backyard this evening loading a wheelbarrow with large rocks and only managed to clear out the lower area in front of the retaining wall. There is still a good amount of soil preparation that needs to happen before spreading topsoil across the backyard... and the area where the playground will be built still needs to be graded in addition to the area in front of the retaining wall... and there are still 4 stumps that need to be ground down.

The owner of the landscaping company called my wife this afternoon to let her know that the 30 cubic yards of topsoil will be delivered tomorrow at 8:00am while the concrete will arrive at 11:00am. I left messages for the owner this evening asking who from his crew will be here at 8:00am to give the dumptrucks access through my back fence (the chainlink fence gets reinstalled each evening) and advise the drivers where to dump the dirt... I'm guessing the answer is no one since the crew has yet to arrive before 9:30am, but I'm holding out hope.

The new estimated completion date is this Thursday, but given the ever-growing punch list, I'm guessing this won't be done until Friday.


My home, my castle: Backyard renovation - Day 5

We were rained out today, but hopefully the weather will hold out tomorrow...


My home, my castle: Backyard renovation - Day 4

Today the form was created for the patio which will be poured on Monday.

A lot more grading was done as well. On Monday the sprinkler system will be installed, 3 dump truck loads of topsoil will be brought in, and final grading will also be done.


My home, my castle: Backyard renovation - Day 3

The retaining wall is now 90% done, with only capstones remaining to be added. The stump grinder worked all day, but we still have half of the stumps that were cut down which need to be removed.

More grading work was accomplished, and the placement of the patio was staked out.


My home, my castle: Backyard renovation - Day 2

The day started with laying out the exact location of the retaining wall as well as the poured concrete patio. From there, the bobcat went to work taking out some more of the hillside followed by grading in front of the wall.

The blocks for the retaining wall were unloaded, a level line was struck, the crushed granite was laid, and the crew began setting and leveling the base layer of blocks. Once finished, the wall will be nearly 5' high and over 50' long with stair steps running through the middle of the wall.

Survive a plane crash by avoiding first class

There is a widely-held belief that seat selection on an airplane has little bearing on whether passengers survive a crash. Popular Mechanics, the only magazine I ever new my grandfather to read, shows that this belief can be deadly.

Their analysis shows that it's much safer in the back of the plane, and in fact, "Passengers near the tail of a plane are about 40 percent more likely to survive a crash than those in the first few rows up front."

Read the full article here.


My home, my castle: Backyard renovation - Day 1

A 40 foot elevation difference from the back of my house to the property line along with 30+ trees creating too much shade fostered an environment that was very conducive to mosquitoes and erosion while not being very useful or kid-friendly. The shade made it nearly impossible for grass to grow, resulting in a lot of dirt and weeds. A deck on the back of the house was in an advanced state of deterioration, and because of improper grading, the area under the deck had become a breeding ground for mosquitoes as well as an impediment to permanently solving the problem of water seeping (sometimes gushing) into the basement during heavy rains. Several years ago I "temporarily" dug a trench which has kept the basement dry, but it's an eyesore.

This spring we decided to do something about the backyard after I finished remodeling the living room. Our needs were simple; we wanted the following for our backyard: grass, a lot more usable space, some trees removed, the yard graded, a retaining wall built, a playground for the girls, and a patio installed.

With the living room 95% complete (I still need to install the travertine around the fireplace), my wife started making calls. Over a 6-week time, she solicited bids from 7 different landscaping companies, and we settled on 3. One dropped out of the running, and we asked the two finalists to return so that details could be discussed. Experience, cost, and the ability to start immediately favored one of the companies, so we scheduled the job.

Getting the equipment in was a challenge. Because the front yard is steeper than the back, we got permission from neighbors behind us to allow the equipment to cross their property and enter through the rear of ours. The crew of 8 was able to take down 11 trees, a job that would have taken me every weekend for a month.

So at the end of day 1, the trees are gone, a huge pile of mulch is waiting to be spread, and some grading was done. It's amazing how much brighter the yard and the rooms facing the yard are.


Deathly Hallows at Kroger

Though I don't read, my wife is an avid reader and loves the Harry Potter series. So at midnight I visited my closest 24-hour Wal-Mart in an effort to purchase the final book in the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Upon getting to the entry doors, however, I and the 50+ other prospective book buyers pouring out of the parking lot learned that the store was no longer a 24-hour Wal-Mart.

My next stop was Kroger, and they were well-stocked with no line. By 12:10am they'd already sold 6 boxes of books with 19 boxes remaining. I guess tonight will be a bonding experience for many families, as I saw parents along with their kids, each with a book in hand. I personally think the woman in front of me had the right idea, though. She was buying a 12-pack of Heineken along with her copy of the book.

Me? I'll either wait for the movie or listen to it on my iPod. I'm sure my wife is finishing up Chapter 1 about now.


Garden update

It's been three months since planting, and we've already made our first batch of salsa with tomatoes from the garden. Unfortunately the peppers aren't getting enough sun and the sunflowers were devoured by birds.

The tomato plants look like they'll keep producing for a good month, and the Sugar Baby watermelons are coming along just fine.


Sometimes it hurts being an early adopter

Fortunately my home phone service was already in the process of being moved from Sunrocket, but for others, this isn't good news:

from: sunrocket@sunrocket.com
date: Jul 19, 2007 7:34 AM
subject: Important Message from Sunrocket

Dear Customers,

After significant effort by the Company to avoid this result, SunRocket is in the process of closing its operations and therefore will no longer be able to provide you with the phone service that you have been accustomed to. However, this email provides you with an opportunity to sign up with select service providers who we believe will offer outstanding replacement service

In order to assist you, we have entered into negotiations with a number of service providers. As a result of those negotiations, we have entered into agreements with 8x8, Inc., provider of the Packet8 service, and Unified Communications Corp., provider of Teleband service to offer you the best options and we are proud to recommend the following alternatives to you. Please make your decision to move to a new service provides immediately as future service is uncertain.


The Packet8 Internet phone service incorporates patent protected technology from 8x8. Inc., a publicly traded company in business for more than 20 years. The service works in the same way as SunRocket.s and offers a virtually identical feature set.

. No Startup Costs
. FREE activation
. FREE equipment
. FREE shipping
. FREE first month of service
. Quickly port your number at no charge

A Savings of over $100!

Copy and paste the following link into your Internet browser: http://getpacket8.packet8.net/sunrocket/ or call 1-800-868-0068 and mention special offer code SUNROCKET

Unified Communications Corp./TeleBlend

The TeleBlend Internet phone service incorporates patent-protected technology from Unified Communications Corp., a privately held company in business to provide outstanding customer service and telephony products. Teleblends has been working behind the scenes already to restore and continue service for all Sun Rocket customers The service works in the same way as SunRocket.s and offers an identical feature set with our Unlimited Transfer Plan.
. No Startup Costs
. FREE activation
. USE your existing hardware
. FREE and Quick transfer of your current number
. No Need to port your number to another provider
. UNLIMITED calling to the US, Canada, and Puerto Rico

Copy and paste the following link into your Internet browser: http://www.myteleblend.net

It has been our pleasure to service you at SunRocket!


At what point is incompetence treasonous?

Our President is delusional... when will the Senate have the guts to hold our Commander in Chief accountable? For someone with an MBA, President Bush does not understand that the economic and human sacrifices of this war are sunk costs, expenses which are unrecoverable and shouldn't be considered when determining whether to abandon or continue a particular action.


Is Atlanta real estate a buy?

The NY Times has an article today on Atlanta's increasing rate of foreclosures. What the article fails to highlight is the fact that borrowers in metro Atlanta use interest-only mortgages at a higher rate than the rest of the nation, which is a key contributor to the increased foreclosure rate. Those who took out a 6-month LIBOR +1% interest-only mortgage in June of 2003 when LIBOR was at 1.124% have had their mortgage payments more than triple in the last 4 years.

Buying low and selling high are the keys to profitable investing, but knowing what is a high and/or low is often difficult. My barometer for knowing a good real estate investment opportunity is its ability to generate positive cash flow, but that doesn't apply to people who are in the business of flipping houses.


Lou Ferrigno is calling

In general I don't like receiving gifts. If I need something I buy it... or I figure out a way to buy it. I have most of what I want, and what I don't have I don't need. Despite peoples' best intentions, unless a gift has been cleared by my wife (who knows what I need before I do) it will probably be converted to cash via eBay unless it has a gift receipt. Remember, it's the year to de-clutter. So around my birthday and Christmas I'm known as being "difficult to buy for".

Several years ago my brother found a crazy and unique birthday gift that didn't get put on a shelf to collect dust. He had Lou Ferrigno call to wish me a happy birthday! Yes, it was the Lou Ferrigno whose 15 minutes of fame ended when The Incredible Hulk television series was cancelled in the early 80's. My brother doesn't have any Hollywood connections, but he did find Hollywood Is Calling who does. You've got to love the Internet! What random and crazy gifts have you received?


Update on Saving with VoIP

With my Sunrocket deal expiring next month, it's time to switch VoIP providers. And just in time, ViaTalk is running a promotion offering unlimited local & long distance calling for $199 for 2 years with free router (but activation is $29.95 and shipping is $9.95) which comes to $9.95 per month. Until I can convince my wife to drop our "land line" in lieu of cellular only, this is hard to beat.