Thursday, December 3, 2009

Haiku from my window

Cleveland grey, dark skies
afternoon sun smacking hard
on December trees

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Just like a Montana stream

My friend Guy and I took a walk today with Sheba and Siegfried From KAOS. And what a day.

Cleveland couldn't get much better for mid November. Sunny skies, little wind and close to 60 degrees.

I mentioned this to Guy, a California native, and he nodded politely and appreciatively before reflecting, "Today would be about the worst day of the winter in Santa Barbara."

No matter. We hiked to Mill Creek Falls, took the path down the left bank overlooking the creek and before long made our way down to the creek bed. This is Cleveland. Not bad.
Mill Creek is exactly like a Montana stream. Only without the aquatic insects, cutthroat trout (or any fish to speak of), otters, black bears or grizzly bears. Still, it's amazing the beauty that's in my back yard, available to be enjoyed anytime just by taking the time and effort to look.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Friday, November 6, 2009

Autumn splendor

One of the coolest plants we have at CadMur Manor is Asclepias syriaca, common milkweed. This time of year, these pods dry, crack and break open, releasing little seeds into the air to be carried to a new site in order to begin a new life cycle. I collected a couple of small baggies full of the fluffy seeds today, setting them aside for planting next year. If you want some seeds for your pollinator garden, let me know!

This is a Buddleja davidii, butterfly bush

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Humility hike

"Don't call anyone, please! I don't have any insurance and can't afford it."

Clutching his chest as he panted and pleaded, the breathless young man knelt before us on the asphalt all-purpose Mill Creek trail -- almost directly behind CadMur Manor.

"I think I'm just having an asthma attack," he said, perhaps not fully believing his own words.

I pulled my phone from my pocket and began to call.

"My chest just hurts like hell, and I don't have my inhaler with me. I've had these before, and I think I'll be okay. I just can't pay for an ambulance or a trip to the hospital, so please don't call 911. I had to get X-rays for my shoulder once and got stuck with a $2,000 bill," he added.

This kid could die because he is afraid of getting socked with a bill he can't afford -- making this a compelling healthcare reform anecdote, I thought to myself -- before returning quickly to the moment, to the person in front of me.

Until now I had ignored his request, dialing the numbers 9-1-1 and pressing "call" as he talked. Now turning to Sophie, my RN wife, for guidance she nodded to hold off a moment while she assessed. I hit "end call."

Only minutes before Sophie and I had just hit the trail with our dogs for a late afternoon stroll. It was late Friday, the day before Halloween, and the temperature hovered at 72 degrees. At the bottom of the hill below the community center, we exchanged greetings with a young couple less than half our age apparently returning from a walk. We discussed our options: left toward Mill Creek Falls or right toward the Garfield Park Nature Center. As we talked, I noticed the man's distressful movements on the ground to our east, toward the nature center, at a distance of about 150 feet.

Racing toward the man to help, I was passed as if running in slow motion by that young couple, also running to the man for assistance. No time for vanity, I thought. The couple had been standing a few feet behind us and saw the young man struggling a split second after I did. Now they arrived before I did. Just for good measure, a neighbor, Kellie, came out of nowhere pushing her baby stroller, bringing the total of would-be saviors to five (six counting Kellie's four-month-old, Daniel, and eight counting our canine companions).

The young asthmatic identified himself as Kyle, 26, a neighbor who lived across Turney Road on one of the side streets. He was en route to his girlfriend's house, taking the trail toward the nature center as a short cut. He was clean cut, with short hair beneath a baseball-style cap -- the type with a flat brim, which he wore slightly to one side.

Now catching his breath and standing steadily, Kyle cautioned us from walking toward the falls.

"There are a bunch of druggies down there smoking dope," he said. "You don't want to go down there."

Kyle underestimated Siegfried and Sheba's protective instincts and ferocity, I thought. (They killed a skunk, dude! You should read this blog.) Nice, though, that Kyle was protecting his would-be rescuers.

Nurse Sophie had made up her mind. We wouldn't call 911 but instead would walk with Kyle toward his girlfriend's to ensure he was okay. Kyle accepted our offer, the young couple turned to go off in the opposite direction and Sophie, Kellie, Daniel, Siegfried, Sheba and I walked with Kyle the half mile or so to Sladden, the side street Kyle headed to.

I liked Kyle, a second-shift worker at a machine shop. He goes to school during the day, he said, hoping one day to become a fire fighter. He has a three-year-old daughter, but apparently doesn't live with her or the girl's mother. But he spoke about spending as much time with her as he could. His job now doesn't provide health insurance, at least not until he has been there awhile longer. Did he say he'd have to be at the same job a full year before being eligible for healthcare benefits? I don't remember now.

As we walked the last few hundred feet before reaching Sladden, Kyle noticed I was wearing a Shaker Heights Police Department sweatshirt, which I acquired during a citizen-police program I was in two years ago.

"Are you a retired police officer?" Kyle asked.

Oh, vanity. Thanks for keeping me humble, Kyle. I wish you a long, healthy and happy life.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Halloween by the numbers

313 number of Trick-or-Treaters to CadMur Manor, from 6 p.m. until we ran out of candy
70 estimated percent of trick-or-treaters who live outside of Mill Creek, our neighborhood
66 number of minutes elapsed from first trick-or-treater until the last
63 number of children who said, "I love your dogs!"
52 temperature, in fahrenheit, at 6 p.m.
49 temperature, in fahrenheit, at 7:04 p.m.
30 estimated percent of trick-or-treaters who actually live in Mill Creek
22 estimated age in years of the oldest trick-or-treater
17 number of children who commented, correctly, that our dogs are Jack Russell terriers
12 number of seconds, on average, between each trick-or-treater
7:04 time, post meridiem, when last piece of candy was given
5:58 time, post meridiem, when first trick-or-treaters appeared
4.74 average number of trick-or-treaters per minute
5 percent of trick-or-treaters who made no attempt to wear a costume; went as a "human being" or a "student"
4 number of months old of the youngest trick-or-treater
1 number of pieces of candy given to each trick-or-treater
0 number of frowns

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Giving kids a ghost of a chance

Where do all these kids come from? Tonight is our 11th Halloween at CadMur Manor, and we expect somewhere from 250 to 500 little visitors to our front door. That's an average of about 2 kids for each of the 220 households in the development -- way more than live here.

A sizable majority of our visitors come from outside Mill Creek, mostly from surrounding neighborhoods, a fact that infuriates some of our neighbors. Scores of parents pile their little ghosts and gobblins into their cars, drive to our urban-enclave of a development and send them out looking for treats in a safe, (mostly) welcoming community. The trick-or-treaters fair better here because:
  1. more residents participate and hand out candy
  2. the booty might be somewhat of a higher caliber than it would be where they live
  3. the kids are safer here than at home, less than a mile away -- unlikely to be shot accidentally or otherwise by being in the wrong place at the wrong time, outside for instance early in the evening
It's a small price to pay for us, handing out candy to kids who don't live here, "outsiders," along with everyone else. We don't worry where our visitors are from. We're happy to have so many kids safely experience a holiday tradition that we both experienced in simpler times. In times before gangs and massive violence. Once a year, we get this wonderful opportunity for love and service, a gift that benefits us at least as much as it does the children who knock on our door, proclaiming, "Trick or treat!"
Sheba and Siegfried From KAOS will be on hand to welcome hundreds of trick-or-treaters tonight

Friday, October 30, 2009

Our path

Sophie and I hit the trail behind CadMur Manor today for a fabulous Friday frolic with the pups. Along the way, we met up with our neighbor Kellie and her four-month-old, Daniel, crunching leaves in the late afternoon sun and trading tales about deer sightings, gardening and Mill Creek living.

The all-purpose Garfield Park trail bordering Mill Creek. Just one of the scores of reasons we love our community.

Sophie and I took occupancy of our brand new home in Mill Creek Oct. 30, 1998 -- 11 years ago today. Good times.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Mill Creek afternoon

Sedum telephium 'autumn joy'

Tetraopes tetrophthalmus 'milkweed beetle' on Asclepias syriaca 'common milkweed'

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Mill Creek rising

The view from the back door at CadMur Manor, 7:30 a.m., Oct. 14, 2009

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Skunk now... sanity later

A guest blog post from Sophie, she wrote this originally as a note to her co-workers this morning. Today is the first of three days R&R for the hard-working quality-supervisor-nurse. ~slc
My three days off started with a bit of drama. Around 9 pm last night, I let Siegfried and Sheba out. They were barking wildly. Sheba was still in the yard. Siegfried had taken off and was two doors down. He had something cornered in the neighbor's flower bed. It was pitch black. I ran over and he was holding a skunk captive. At this point Sheba joined in on the fun. They were attacking the skunk. Siegfried had it in his mouth shaking it back and forth as terriers do with their prey. They wouldn't let the creature alone.

I was frantic!! My neighbor Leon came out. He didn't know what to do. The dogs continued to attack the skunk and get sprayed at the same time. At one point Sheba shreiked in pain -- I almost lost it. My children were in horrible danger. I was inches away from the threesome and was able to grab Sheba. I put her back in the yard, thinking she would stay put because of the invisible fence, but she came back for more. She wasn't done attacking the skunk. It's all a blur.

At this point, Siegfried and the skunk were down the hill and he was locked in on the skunk, which was only moving slightly. Somehow I managed to get Sheba back up the hill, grabbed a leash from inside and subdued her. I think about 15 minutes had gone by at this point. Siegfried was still holding the skunk captive. He had a mouth full of fur. I called my other neighbors (who also have a Jack Russel) Keith and Cindy. They came out and continued to try to coax Siegfried up the hill away from the skunk. After about 20 minutes of coaxing, Siegfried finally came up and we grabbed him. The skunk was still moving slightly, but died quickly. We then prepared a mixture of baking soda/dawn soap and h202 [hydrogen peroxide] and bathed each of them.

It doesn't seem possible, but I don't think they were sprayed too much. They don't have too many battle scars -- Sheba has a scratch on her side and is going to the vet this a.m. They were both happy and wagging their tails this morning like nothing happened -- no smell whatsoever.

I am renaming Siegfried -- he is now "Killer." Killer is sleeping soundly in my lap right now. Oh and while all this drama was going on, Mama was saying "I wanna go to bed. I'm tired. Take me to bed."

Serenity now!!
I posted another story, "Sophie's Choice," on the same event today in Every Day With Bandar.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

CadMur Manor monarchs and more

Another fine day today at CadMur Manor, for monarchs or just about any other creature. Here are a few views from our patio.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Summer splendor

We had to buy some store-bought ingredients for our salad tonight because we don't know how to press olives, make cheese or balsamic vinegar. But we were able to harvest fresh tomatoes and basil from Sophie's first-ever vegetable garden to make this delicious Caprese salad tonight. Lots more tomatoes and basil are on the way.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Journey Gardening - A Symphonie Fantastique

Sophie is focused. Early this summer, she decreed we would maintain our backyard habitat / garden so we can truly enjoy it. And so we have.

CadMur Manor hasn't seen a better summer since we began our outdoor project, in 1999. The weeds aren't winning, and for our nurturing efforts, we have a multitude of happy butterflies, moths, hummingbirds, wrens, goldfinches, chipmunks, garter snakes, toads, field mice, garden spiders, caterpillars and scores of other species of birds, reptiles, mammals, insects and arachnids. The ubiquitous rabbits and deer are especially grateful for our generous helpings of salad -- we call it our hydrangea, phlox, iris and blackberry mix. (Why can't they learn to like bind weed?)

The idea of creating our wildlife oasis on our tiny 50-foot by 100-foot urban lot developed from my desire to reduce our lawn footprint to almost nothing. Why? Because lawns are evil, an unnecessary invention:
  • They require harmful chemicals, fossil fuels and lots of water and labor just to make them look acceptable by most "community standards"; many a suburb has a handful of residents who overdo it to the ridiculous degree, trying to replicate a putting green in their front yard
  • Lawns hold water only little better than pavement, and they contribute to overloading our storm sewers, causing overflows and forcing raw sewage to dump into our streams and lakes during heavy rain events
  • Much of the fertilizers and pesticides we apply to lawns (usually in quantities that far exceed the need) simply get washed off during a rain event and carried to our local streams or sewer-shed, where they make their way into Lake Erie, from which most of us in Greater Cleveland draw our drinking water.
There is no good reason there should be any lawns, other than, perhaps, on a golf course. (As a recovering golfer, I am reluctant to criticize the golf industry. I leave it to others to debate their usefulness or necessity. There are, however, proven methods to minimize the courses' deleterious impact, and many club managers are to be commended for working toward more sustainable maintenance methods.)

In our tiny oasis, we use virtually no pesticides and we go easy on the fertilizer. Rain water soaks into our permeable landscape rather than streaming toward the storm sewers or nearby Mill Creek. Many of our plants are drought-tolerant, so we water less than we would otherwise. And yes, it does take a fraction of the time to mow and trim the sparse lawn area.

Still, our garden doesn't take care of itself, much as I might wish. All that time I save not mowing is more than applied to cultivating and caring for the rest of the yard. We weed, thin, trim and mulch, spending at least as much time keeping it up as we do sitting in and enjoying it from one of our three outdoor "rooms" -- on the stone patio, under the gazebo or around the fire pit.

But we don't garden so we can sit on our butts. (Ask Sophie, the decreer.) As in life, we try hard not to focus on a final destination -- a peak moment where everything blooms at once in a weedless world where the sun shines just so and the birds sing as a chorus dedicated solely to our enjoyment. Even when we may experience a moment like that, then what? Is that our destination? What happens after that? And after that?

There is only one final destination for any person, so far as I know. Much better to attend to our journey and enjoy the ride, day to day, moment to moment and the moments within the moments. Gardening helps us do this. As we travel on our journey, we may choose to perform life-affirming acts, watering, planting, mulching, weeding and fertilizing where we can, when we can. The journey unfolds as we tend to our garden, not so much when we stop and watch.

Even as we toil and tend, there are other forces at work that are beyond our control, beyond our understanding. Only with those forces do our flowers bloom, does the rain fall or the sun shine, does gravity work and life flow. Those forces have their own rules, their own way, and they may not care much for our plans, one way or the other. How then do we work with or against nature and continue to enjoy our journey?

Our experience is that not everything grows as we want. Some plants wither. Others don't grow at all. Like troubles, new weeds pop up in new places, their seeds germinating tirelessly, without end. If we're dedicated, we continue tending while traveling on our journey, doing our part as best we can. We accept nature's verdicts, live with them, experience them as they occur.

As we become seasoned gardeners and live in harmony with nature, learn from it, take its cues, and become familiar with our capabilities as well as our limitations, we come to enjoy our journey, whether dripping with sweat while pulling weeds or sitting calmly on the patio in the early evening and imagining the call of a nearby screech owl and even closer chirping crickets, creating their symphony just for us. Because they do, if we let them.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Diverging interests

I created a new blog to capture the ongoing story of life with my mother-in-law, Bandar. Yes, an incredibly odd area of interest. This is my journey, shared with Sophie and her mom, Bandar Murad, a tale I never would have expected to tell. It's about my midlife decision to go with the flow. To be of maximum service while gaining a more spiritual life. I moved the seven posts that were here at Mill Creek Almanac to the new site, Every Day With Bandar. Please visit. I will continue to devote MCA to our living in this incredible community in Cleveland's South Broadway neighborhood.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

End of July: garden report

CadMur Manor's "Certified Wildlife Habitat" is in peak form and full of activity, even when Siegfried From KAOS and Sheba aren't living wildly outdoors.

This year's winners include the usual suspects: purple coneflowers, milkweed, lamium purple dragon, bee balm, Jupiter's beard, creeping juniper, Eastern prickly pear, shrub roses, May night sage, joe pye weed, itea sweetspire, hydrangea bush, clematis, moonflower, butterfly bushes, river birch, kousa dogwood, sweetbay magnolia and Japanese maple. All looking good. And, we've mulched and stayed on top of the weeds.

Our rhododendrons not so much. One looks good, but its two neighbors are not happy. Need to figure a solution for them next year.

While the creeping phlox is okay, the standing phlox and the hydrangea bushes have become deer salad. These had not been disturbed (much) in previous years. I'm happy to accommodate our white-tailed visitors (as well as the rabbits) in keeping with our goal of being a habitat for wildlife, but Sophie would prefer they find something else to eat, somewhere else to go. We have had more deer scat here than any of the 9 previous summers. And as I said in a previous post, they may be less fearful of visiting since we put up new "window treatments" to try to keep Siegfried and Sheba from going crazy all the time at anything that moves outside.

We're both happy with all the other wildlife we've attracted this year, including a host of birds (including hummingbirds and some nesting house wrens), a variety of bees, a few wasps and other insects, moths, monarchs and other butterflies, and an occasional squirrel, chipmunk or field mouse. And snakes. I've only seen garter snakes, but I found a handsome shedded skin in our holly, too long I think to have come from a garter. I'm not sure what else it may have come from. And I have not seen two of my favorites: luna moths (which have a one-week lifespan during the adult stage, in early June) or clearwing hummingbird moths (which have been very common here in all of the previous summers).
If you're in the neighborhood, please stop by for a visit and tour of the garden. We'd love to see you.

Monday, July 20, 2009

I Want my HVAC... follow-up

Watch those repair guys, watch how they do it
They fiddle all day with my HVAC
My system ain't workin' gotta fix it or replace it
Cool air is really somethin', and it gonna cost me

Now my system ain't workin', fix it or replace it
I know I can't fix it 'cause that just ain't me
I call a guy over, he look at my system
Maybe find it maybe fix it, if he find the leak
Maybe find it maybe fix it...
Maybe find it maybe fix it...

I want my... I want my HVAC
I want my... I want my HVAC

Next guy he want to, install a brand new system
Energy efficient, cool air for me, but...
He don't seem cool, he just keep talkin', and
He say he want six thousand dollars from me

This other guy, he say, the leak is in the coil
I make it good as new and you pay me my fee
You should get a new coil, a lot less expensive --
Only nine hundred dollars for recycled AC

I want my... I want my... I want my HVAC
By early last week we had done all the calculations and were ready to replace the coil, which, we were told, was so damaged with leaks that it couldn't be repaired. And then came Mike, a man with a plan. A friend of Sophie's cousin George, Mike repairs a/c units for businesses and homeowners. Without looking at our unit, he says, "I'll fix the leak(s) in an hour or so. Don't get a new coil until I look at it." He shows up Friday
morning. Does the bubble test (by shooting nitrogen into the
system and spraying a sticky fluid where the suspected leaks are as well as other possible places -- escaping gas creates bubbles at the site of the leak). Finds three leaks and brazes them. Tests system. Vacuums whatever gas and impurities are in the system, and shoots 5 pounds of R-22 refrigerant into the system. He's there two hours and charges $200, which is $150 for refrigerant @ $30 a pound and $50 for his time. Cool.

Mike doesn't look a thing like this guy

System works fine as of today. We don't have the latest and greatest, but at 10 years old, it's an efficient 10 SEER system that works well with a high-efficiency furnace. Both products are made by Lennox. And, we use our programmable thermostat such that it doesn't run except when it's really uncomfortable, and we're home. If the repairs hold out as Mike says they will (and we service the unit every year or two to keep it in shape) we will replace both our furnace and the a/c unit in 10 or so years, when we can match speeds / stages and take advantage of advances in efficiencies and technology that occur between now and then.
This is very similar to the coil in our system

Bottom line: you better shop around
We talked to six vendors. We got three estimates before hiring Mike with his $200 fix. Two vendors said to replace the coil for approximately $800 to $1,000. The third vendor, who told us in error that the unit was beyond repair, wanted $6,000 for a new a/c system (not including the furnace). Even had we bought the 18 SEER two-stage system he recommended, it would not work correctly with our existing furnace, even though he said it would.

Total costs for our 2009 repair job
$160 service call / refrigerant, w dye pack, 6/25
$80 service call to find leak, 7/9
$200 repair & re-charge w refrigerant, 7/17
$440 total

When Brand X was out here July 9, the service guy reinstalled the panel door covering the coil above the furnace, after he had found the leak and told us our options. But, he had trouble putting the screws back in place and told me he wanted to drill new screws to hold it tighter. He did so and left. Next day, the a/c didn't work. All the refrigerant leaked out, right through the new hole he accidentally screwed into the copper pipe behind the access panel. Whoops!
This is an update to Learning how to be cool, June 24

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Bean picking in the 'hood

I met our friend Susie to pick green and white beans, in a community garden a couple miles north of Mill Creek in Slavic Village. Our vacationing Mill Creek friends and neighbors have a couple of plots there and asked me to harvest whatever I could while they're away, in Russia. Susie and I filled half of a cloth grocery bag in no time. Susie took her share leaving me still with more beans than I know what to do with.

The fenced-in and locked garden, consisting of a dozen or so small plots of about 120 square feet each, is across from a neatly kept Barkwill Community Park near East 55th and Broadway. Garden and park are a small oasis in one of the most impoverished areas of Cleveland, where empty, boarded-up homes stand in testimony to the sub-prime mortgage meltdown and current economic crisis.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Targeted home security

An uncovered garage window is an open invitation to nefarious persons to come have a look inside to see what kind of cars, lawnmowers, snowblowers and work tools might be available for the taking. A garage with no cars could be another signal to see what's inside the house. To prevent such window shopping, I found a neat solution, putting up a souvenir I took home from a day at the Shaker Heights Police shooting range. Perfect fit! I had a pretty nice grouping with those 10 or so rounds, if I say so myself.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Barb Craver's Resolve -- In Memoriam

In the early 90s, my former wife and I visited the home of Barb and Mike Craver in Berea, for a special occasion -- perhaps a birthday or holiday party. My contemporaries and friends, Craver siblings Doug and Cheryl, were in their 20s or early 30s and out in the work world, visiting mom and dad at home for the occasion along with several of their friends, including us. As people mingled and ate -- the primary activities in any Craver home -- Doug and Cheryl's grandmother, whom Doug had dubbed, The Gatekeeper, was there, and when nobody was looking she just kind of lost her balance and fell backward, near the kitchen, her head making a gentle thud sound as it made contact with the carpeted floor.

The noise was loud. Conversation abruptly stopped as our eyes searched to determine the source of the thud, not immediately noticing the person laying horizontally on her back beneath our gaze, her eyes staring calmly at the ceiling. After a moment, she let out a muffled, "Oh," which gave away her location. Several family members rushed to her side to see what had happened, as blood began to soak and then puddle in the carpet around The Gatekeeper's head. It looked serious.

Most impressive in action was Barb. Apparently, she had prepared to deal with this type of traumatic event because she took charge immediately, clearing people from around The Gatekeeper and kneeling next to her, looking down intently to determine what level of trauma may have been at hand and how to deal with it. I had never seen Barb move so quickly or act so decisively. Perhaps she had special emergency medical training, necessary for her work as a drug and alcohol counselor. Like everyone else, I stood in awe, awaiting orders from the self-appointed Commander, perhaps to call 9-1-1, get ice, boil water, tear sheets. Within seconds, Barb had seen enough. Bolting upright, she searched the crowd, settling on the first person in her line of sight. "Joanne!" she said excitedly. "We were just talking about this... do you think that Resolve carpet cleaning spray will work to get this blood out of the carpeting?"

An instant later when she realized how absurd her temporarily misplaced priorities appeared to be, she laughed at herself. The humor among the onlookers was strained at first. No one yet knew whether an ambulance was required. Until that moment, Barb had not given a thought to relaying what she saw: blood aside, the fall hadn't harmed The Gatekeeper, much. Barb assessed that she'd be fine and simply moved on to the next priority, which of course was restoring the carpet to its normal condition. Barb attempted to assuage everyone's concern for The Gatekeeper; she was fine, really. As the message sunk in, the laughter spread, growing louder and longer. Barb often squinted her eyes so tightly as she laughed (and sometimes cried simultaneously) when something really struck her as funny. This was one of those times.

Moments later as The Gatekeeper sat safely in a chair and iced down her bumped head, Barb followed directions from the back side of her newly purchased carpet cleaning product, still excited at the chance to really put it to the test. She removed every ounce of blood, proud of herself and her product. This was Resolve's inaugural use in the Craver household. Probably not its last.

I loved the way Barb Craver could laugh at herself and see the many absurdities that happen simply by living life on life's terms. She wasn't always comfortable in her own skin, she had once told me. But she grew to be so over many years and through much effort and help from her higher power and others. Never taking herself too seriously and being so authentic and generous with herself and her gifts, she was a great example to me and countless others. I'm so glad Doug introduced me to his mom, Barb Craver, 23 years ago. She'll always be a part of who I am.

Barb Craver founded and headed UMACC in 1976, to help others beat their addictions to drugs and alcohol, shortly after she began her own recovery from prescription pills and alcohol. She was one of the first -- if not the first -- intervention specialist in Cleveland, and earned both compliments and scorn from colleagues in the field of recovery for her then-new and unconventional technique of confronting addicted people along with family and friends with rehearsed and scripted straight talk and a plan of action for the person's recovery. She was a frequent guest on local TV shows, appearing as an authority on addiction and recovery. Scores of sober people and thousands of their friends and family give credit to Barb for her successful assistance. She died peacefully in hospice, July 7, surrounded by family.

photo of Barb Craver courtesy of Doug Craver

-- Steve Cadwell, July 8, 2009

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Window treatments

Jack Russell Terriers are excitable in the same way water is wet or rocks are hard. Theirs is a natural phenomenon that never, ever varies under normal conditions. Doesn't take much to get the attention of our dynamic duo. And designing a backyard to attract wildlife has had the effect of presenting to them an endless stream of diverse distractions, just outside the comfortable confines of the Manor. Bird, rabbit, dear, chipmunk, mouse, fox, squirrel, shadow, leaf. The shadow of a leaf. And human-induced disturbances: meter-reader, neighbor, dog, cat. If it moves, Sheba and Siegfried want to check it out, in tandem. Immediately. Fervently. Desperately. Did I say now! They're not shy about letting us know. Especially Sheba.

Out of sheer frustration and in an attempt to diminish the frequent bedlam, a month ago Sophie taped newspaper to the bottom one-third of our back faux French doors, resulting in a more peaceful and serene household. Not a long-term solution; at least not intended to be.

Like every great innovation in history, Sophie's solution has at least one unintended consequence. Those huge urban rodents people call deer are decimating our perennial flowers like never before -- all since the installation of these view blockers. Coincidence?

Friday, July 3, 2009

Today at CadMur Manor

Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) on Jupiter's beard (Centranthus ruber). Also pictured: purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) and bee balm (Monarda didyma).

Monday, June 29, 2009

Butterfly ready

We haven't seen any monarch butterflies this year at Mill Creek yet, but our milkweed is poised and ready for their arrival.
These plants, Asclepias syriaca, growing among
the shrub roses are "volunteers," started from seeds from a plant that grew last year nearby.
Besides this common milkweed, we also have some swamp milkweed, Asclepias incarnata, growing nearby. The common milkweed began blooming about a week ago, coincidentally just about the time that monarchs first arrived on the scene in our part of the world. The monarchs are attracted to the milkweed flowers for nectar, but more so to the plant's leaves as a place for females to deposit their eggs. Milkweed is the only plant monarch caterpillars will consume; without the important host, monarchs would not be able to survive.

Deposited on the underside of milkweed leaves, monarch caterpillar eggs hatch four or five days after being laid. An enormous eater, the tiny caterpillar consumes 2,700 times its weight and molts five times during this stage of its life cycle, before beginning the next phase by constructing a protective, shiny emerald-green case ringed with golden dots, called a chrysalis. Inside the chrysalis, the caterpillar, now called a pupa, rebuilds itself into an adult butterfly, all within the span of about 10 days to two weeks.
The emerging butterflies live about two to six weeks as an adult, migrating north to reproduce, the females laying eggs and starting another generation, likely the last of four since early March, when the process began in a fir forest in Central Mexico's Sierra Madre Mountains. (Other overwintering sites are in Florida and Baja, Calif.) Each generation of monarchs is pre-programmed to migrate a few hundred miles north, reproduce and die -- excepting each season's last generation, which lives through each winter. Usually in Southern Canada by late summer, each of these butterflies somehow knows it must fly south several thousand miles, back to the very forest, if not the same tree, from which its great-great grandparents hailed. There, it will cluster with groups of tens of thousands per tree until starting the annual process again next March.

There are many types of milkweed, all of which can serve as host to monarchs. Milkweed "sap" contains a poison, cardenolides or cardiac glycosides, which is similar to the heart medicine digitalis. It is poisonous to most vertebrates but harmless to monarch caterpillars, which ingest vast quantities of the substance and then maintain high levels of the poison throughout their life stages. Vertebrate predators either learn to steer clear of monarchs and milkweed through a onetime bad-tasting experience; others just seem to know instinctively to eschew and not chew the poison source.

CadMur Manor is a National Wildlife Federation Certified Wildlife Habitat and a certified Monarch Waystation. You can have your home certified as well. Contact the NWF or for details.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Eastern prickly pear, Opuntia humifusa, June 27, 2009, at CadMur Manor. First Blooms of summer appeared a couple days ago. One of our favorites!

Cool times at CadMur Manor... so far

The tech from Vendor X stopped by Thursday and did his magic to our central air condenser unit outside. He gave the 10-year-old system a shot of R-22 refrigerant and injected a dye pack at the height of the 90+ degree day. The dye will be used to help find our leak. By nightfall, the house had reached 80 degrees. We're at a comfortable 73 now, Saturday at about 3:15 p.m. He gave us enough of the R-22 to last a couple weeks.

Vendor X will return July 9 with an ultraviolet light to look for the dye, somewhere along the coils, valves or line. Where there's dye, there's our pinhole leak. We hope the refrigerant lasts that long and that the leak is easily fixable.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Learning how to be cool

I spent a lot of time over the last five days on our air conditioning system. My hope is that if you found this posting and are considering repairing or replacing a home central air unit, you might learn from my experience and save yourself time and aggravation. If this is helpful to you, please consider doing an act of kindness for a loved one or even a stranger. Here is my story.

CadMur Manor was built in October 1998 with everything we wanted: 2-car garage, front porch, aesthetically pleasing design, good insulation, and efficient appliances. Brand new everything.
All was wonderful until the first warm day of 1999, when the a/c didn't work in its inaugural test. The builder sent someone to charge the system with refrigerant. As it had been overlooked in the cool fall, the builder said, it was merely an oversight. A couple years later, same situation. No cooling. The builder was out of the picture, and so began our first service call on our dime. Probably a pin-hole leak, the fixing of which was cost-prohibitive, we were told. Charged once again, the refrigerant lasted a couple years. And then we repeated, every two or three years. Thus begins my long lesson in home HVAC.

Growing problem
After 10 years and three or four fresh loads of refrigerant (known to most of us by the brand name freon) something changed. A charge of refrigerant last summer was depleted by this spring. Was the "leak" growing? I asked the a/c guy about fixing the unit, as I did each of the other times. Same response: these leaks are small, almost impossible to detect, and by the time we pay someone to find and fix them we could have bought a new a/c unit. This time, the a/c guy du jour added something new: the builder hadn't put a protective pad under our outdoor unit, which led to its sinking into the soil and its coils and condenser coming into contact with excess moisture and corrosion, which explained the leak(s). The unit is as good as gone, he said. It might hold another charge through the summer, but we were going to need an entire new system. We opted to take our chances in 2009, crossing our fingers as we did so, and commit to doing what's necessary next spring. Ka-ching.

We've already depleted our wallet quite a bit on all these service calls. But the environment has suffered, too, because of our leaky central air conditioning, a well-respected Lennox system. The refrigerant in the system is harmless, so long as it stays where it's designed to stay. But if allowed to escape, the HCFCs in the freon contribute to damage to the ozone layer. (Federal laws require technicians to capture and recycle refrigerants. A/C professionals can't just release freon into the environment like one would by letting the air out of a tire.) Our failure to deal with this system effectively is antithetical to our commitment to being conscientious environmental stewards. Determined to rid ourselves of this cognitive dissonance, we would use this summer to research and look at an alternative that's most economical as well as energy efficient and environmentally friendly.

That was a cool plan that lasted almost two months. The system failed just hours before summer began last Saturday, June 20.

I put out a call for advice Sunday to my Facebook friends and the Twitterverse and got some recommendations for some reliable HVAC dealers. I followed up with several leads, called the last a/c guy I worked with and another guy who was recommended to Sophie by a co-worker.

The cool players
  • Vendor X was first on the scene Tuesday. He's the guy recommended by Sophie's friend at work. He said he could fix the current system or replace it. He disputed a number of things the last a/c guy had told us.
  • Vendor Y came Tuesday evening. Same story as with Vendor X. Repairing and fixing are both possible and recommended over purchasing a new system.
  • Vendor Z came Wednesday morning. He was the same a/c guy who charged the system a couple months ago. Our system is shot, beyond repair. Vendor Z recommended a Luxaire Acclimate 8T Series High Efficiency Central Air Conditioner, 18+ SEER Efficiency. Price: $6,000, more than double what either of the other vendors estimated for a new unit, if we even needed one. (The picture above is not the one Vendor Z recommended, but it may as well have been for the amount of money he quoted.)

  • The several vendors who had charged my unit were all doing so against standard protocol and perhaps violating federal clean air rules. By knowingly filling a unit with a leak, they likewise knew that the refrigerant they were using would not stay contained in the system. They should have advised me to find the leak, not nearly the impossible task I had been led to believe (see below)
  • The pad under the air conditioner isn't the culprit Vendor Z said it was. Pads are nice, but not necessary if the unit is placed properly, which they both said it was. The unit was level and secure, atop a bed of stones that drained water away effectively. Vendors X and Y said the unit had pretty much normal wear and tear and showed no signs of being obsolete.
  • Vendors X and Y were skeptical that the leak had grown worse since the last charge, only a couple months before. More likely, they said, the unit had not been fully charged
  • There might be good reason to replace my unit, but repairing it was recommended. Vendor Y quoted a price of $900 to repair. Vendor X gave an estimate that ranged from $200 to $600, although he acknowledged it is possible there might be damage in the condenser that might necessitate purchasing a new unit.
Finding and fixing the leak
  • I chose to work with Vendor X, who had the most knowledge and experience. He will be out Thursday afternoon, June 25, to look for any obvious leak, fix it if found or take additional steps to find the leak
  • If not found easily (by a "bubble test") Vendor X will fully charge my system with refrigerant and inject a dye pack. This is considered standard protocol and within clean-air guidelines; although the refrigerant will undoubtedly leak into the environment, it's being done in conjunction with a diagnostic test that will determine the place of the leak and lead to its repair
  • Vendor X will return in two weeks, July 9, with an infrared light to assess where the dye, and thus the refrigerant, is leaking. It could be in one or more of several places. The location of the leak(s) determines the cost of labor and materials
  • When the leak is found and the cost is better known, we will have the option of choosing to get a new unit if the cost warrants it
  • Vendor X's bottom line: the leak could be caused by a worn $2 valve or it could be much more complex. There are several other more serious but not-likely defects possible, but chances are they will find the leak and total cost of repair will be as quoted above
Repair costs, broken down
  • Known costs: $80 service call + $40 for the dye pack
  • Variables: Refrigerant (probably about $75) + labor + materials if required
  • Total: $200 to $600 (Vendor X's estimate)
Why buy a new unit?
Although I may not invest in a new system, I learned a lot during my discussions and research. Buying a new unit may actually be the best option. With rising energy costs and efficiency advances, the best reason to replace an existing system is to be green, both for the environment and for the pocketbook. An energy-star rated system today is about 50% more efficient than the 1998 Lennox system that came with our house.
To motivate sales of newer units, the Federal government is allowing 30 percent tax credits on qualifying purchases of new central air systems. (Many other energy-saving purchases qualify for existing homeowners as well, including windows and doors, insulation, roofs (metal and asphalt), water heaters, geothermal heat pumps, solar panels, solar water heaters, small wind energy systems and fuel cells. Some are limited up to $1,500, through 2010; some are available at 30 percent with no upper limit through 2016. Check the Department of Energy for more information.)

Refrigerants are cool
  • Freon is DuPont's trade name for its chlorofluorocarbon and hydrochlorofluorocarbon refrigerants, commonly used in air conditioners and refrigerators. It was developed in 1928 as a non-toxic refrigerant alternative for gases such as ammonia, methane and sulfur dioxide, which could be deadly if leaked from a refrigerator.
  • Freon is odorless, tasteless and nonflammable. Its known dangers to humans are that it can replace oxygen in a closed environment and the chlorine in the gas damages the ozone layer. Freon stays in the upper atmosphere for about 100 years
  • Venting freon or not using approved recovery equipment can result in substantial fines
  • Anyone working with freon must be licensed; failure to obtain licensure can result in substantial fines
  • Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) e.g., R-11, R-12 -- most damaging to the ozone layer, these refrigerants were phased out in the U.S. in 1996 and in the rest of the
  • Hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), e.g., R-22 -- used in most home cooling systems today. Developed by Honeywell, R-22 will be phased out totally by 2030. On Jan. 1, 2010, manufacturers will not be allowed to produce R-22 for use in new refrigerators or air conditioners. In 2020, manufacturers must cease production of R-22 altogether. Homeowners must cease using R-22 by 2030
  • Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), e.g., R-410A -- the refrigerant used in all new systems. It contains only hydrogen, fluoride and carbon and no ozone-damaging chlorine. Allied Signal, now Honeywell, developed the refrigerant
Cost and efficiency considerations -- what I needed to learn about being cool
  • EER (Energy Efficiency Ratio) -- the higher the number the better. The formula for EER is BTUs / Watt Hours; an EER of 10 uses less energy than an EER of 5 to produce the same BTUs
  • SEER is EER adjusted for seasonality, since we don't use air conditioning every month. Our current Lennox system is a SEER 10. The systems we were presented are SEER 16 and SEER 18
  • "Split systems" (a condenser unit outside and an air handling unit inside at the furnace) that are older run at one speed. They're either on or off. When they're on, they run at full power. Most newer units can run on two speeds, low and high. By running on low, usually 80 percent to 90 percent of the time, the units are much more efficient than the single speed systems. Important: if selecting a variable speed air conditioner, the furnace blower must be able to vary its speed as well. Since we have an on/off furnace blower as well, selecting a variable speed air conditioner would not work any better than a single speed system. (Vendor Z's recommended system is a dual speed. He said he could make it work with our existing furnace up to specs and achieve dual-speed savings. Vendors X and Y both disputed his assertion.)
  • To qualify for a tax credit, the air conditioner must be at least SEER 14 or 16, depending on whether it's a split or package system
  • Energy-saving formula -- our energy savings with a SEER 16 unit is about 50 percent over the SEER 10 unit we have now. We estimate that our a/c costs us now about $75 a month, for four months a year, or $300 for the season. By saving 50 percent, we would save about $150 a year -- possibly much more as energy prices increase
  • Payback formula -- a newly installed SEER 10 Goodman brand a/c unit will cost $2,990 installed, including tax. (Vendor X will credit us for initial attempts to identify the leak if we choose to buy a new unit.) The difference between the cost of a new unit and fixing the old unit is about $2,500 ($2,990 - $490 approximate to repair). Our payback time is almost 17 years ($2,500 / $150 = 16.67).
  • Other factors: if the cost of repairs turns out to be $1,000, the payback formula turns out to be 13.3 years (($2,990 - $1,000) / $150 = 13.28 )
  • If the cost of energy goes doubles over the next 10 years, the payback period accelerates more dramatically. E.g., if the annual energy savings are $250, the payback period is 10 years ($2,500 / $250 = 10); Average energy savings of $375 yields 6.7 years ($2,500 / $375 = 6.67)
Tax credit effect
Our hypothetical 16 SEER unit qualifies for a 30 percent tax credit -- a dollar for dollar deduction from our total taxes paid to the Federal government (as opposed to a tax deduction). This changes all of the formulas above to our advantage, starting with our purchase pr
ice: $2,990 - 30 percent = $2,093
  • Payback period with the tax credit and current energy costs will range from 7.3 years to 10.7 years, depending on how much repair costs used in the formula
  • Payback period could accelerate to as little as 3 years by maximizing the repair cost and the energy savings (($2093 purchase - $1,000 comparable repair cost) / avg savings of $375 = 2.91 years)
Current Status, June 25, 2009
  • Try to find simple leaks
  • Charge unit today and inject dye pack
  • More research on energy savings, cost per year for a/c with current vs. new
  • Inspect July 9 and determine cost for repairs
  • Re-calculate
  • Repair or replace
Follow up post: I want my HVAC -- follow-up, July 20, 2009