The Dishwasher Mystery

As I mentioned last time, while we were on vacation in Florida our cat sitter wrote that our dishwasher was leaking. Specifically, the bottom of the machine was filled with water and was leaking onto the floor. This was right after the first of two big storms that hit home while we were away, so of course I worried that something had gone wrong with the dishwasher (bad), with the water supply to it (bad), or with the backflow valve on our house’s line to the sewer (worse). Still, despite my worrying about the worst case, apparently it was just water on the floor, and not any of the other wonderful stuff you would expect if you had a sewer back flow.

Our sitter, wonderful person that she is, brought over some super-absorbent pads to put under the front of the washer, and also turned off the hot water to the washer and to the sink, just to be safe.

For the rest of our trip, now news was good news; despite another storm hitting the house, we heard nothing more about the problem from her. That seemed like further evidence that it wasn’t a sewer backflow problem. We have not been thrilled with our dishwasher (a General Electric model which came with the house) as it doesn’t do a wonderful job of cleaning dishes, and we’ll probably replace it before too long. (Of the appliances our builder installed, it’s the only one we haven’t been happy with.)

So, we got back last Monday night and inspected the washer before going to bed: It was clean and dry. The next day I turned the water back on, and we kept an eye on it for the rest of the week, and nothing happened. So we planned to run the washer this weekend when it was reasonably full.

Late this afternoon Debbi noticed that the washer was filled with water on the bottom, and on the edge of leaking out. Very mysterious, since we hadn’t had any rain at all! My theory at this point was that there was some blockage in the side of the sink that the washer drained to and when we ran the water on that side of the sink it was draining to the washer instead. But I couldn’t see anything in the drain. So, after a short debate we decided to run the dishwasher as planned.

Two things happened: First, the dishwasher immediately started venting water into the sink drain as expected. Second, two of the front lights were flashing as it did so, which is not normal operation. Debbi checked the user’s manual, but didn’t find out what it meant. So I decided to stop the washer, wait a moment, and then start it again. This time it started normally, no flashing lights, ran to completion, and did not leak.

So my best guess is that the washer somehow got into some weird state while we were away, so that the drain from the washer to the sink was open, and thus the sink was partly draining into the washer rather than vice-versa. Maybe we bumped something before we left, somehow. Maybe our sitter was making sure everything was working and somehow triggered something with the washer by accident. Who knows.

But as of now, anyway, it seems to have been a transient fault which has been fixed.

Which is good, because I hate dealing with plumbing problems.

Open House 2015

Yesterday we held our fifth annual open house, our annual summer party which started as a housewarming but which we enjoy enough to throw every year. It’s a fair bit of work to set up, if only to clean the house, buy the food, and throw the cats in a room (so we can leave the doors open), but at the end it feels worth it.

This year I made margaritas again, but instead of Debbi making sangria I made a gin punch called mother’s ruin, which we discovered at a cocktail party a friend threw last winter. I made a triple batch of what’s in the recipe, and we went through almost all of it. Debbi used a triple slow cooker we received as a wedding gift to make dips, and also prepared meatballs for sandwiches. So we had plenty of food – especially considering that a few folks always bring things to munch on as well. (It’s gonna take a while to go through the enormous box of Ferrero Rocher chocolates someone brought!)

I doubt we’ll ever get the turnout we got for our first open house, but we probably got 40ish adults plus 8-12 kids during the course of the day, including a few folks who hadn’t been before, which meant showing off the house to them, which is, frankly, one of the fun parts, since we love our house! Of course it’s also why we had to do all the cleaning!

The biggest downside to the open house is that so many people show up that I don’t get to talk with everyone, and there were a few people who I think showed up and then headed out (maybe several hours later) without my saying more than ‘hello’ to them. If anyone reading this wanted to spend more time specifically talking to me or Debbi, in the future your best bet is either to show up early or stay late! A couple of friends and their families showed up right around start time so we were able to chat with them at some length, and then our neighbors and our friend Paul stayed late. If you want to meet our cats, staying late is also the way to do that, as in the evening we closed the doors and let them out of their room.

One of the fun things about the party is all the kids who come over, putting our back yard to use it doesn’t often see, and also getting a bunch of our friends’ kids together to play. As usual bubble blowing was a big hit with the kids. We should have kids over more often just to have them stomp down the uneven soil in the yard!

Once again we were blessed with nice weather, a little warm at the peak of things, but not the 90+ degrees it had been a few days ago.

And then today we remembered why we always hold the open house on Saturday rather than Sunday: It’s gonna take us a few days to finish putting the house completely back together.

It was worth it, though!

Retractable Screen Doors

Our house has some nice french doors that open from our family room onto the back porch. But with multiple indoor kitties we haven’t really been able to enjoy them (i.e., leave them open) except for a few open houses when the cats have been confined to a room. But recently we got some retractable screens and now we’e able to have them open when we want:

I staged this picture specifically so you can see the screens, but they're not generally this visible.
I staged this picture specifically so you can see the screens, but they’re not generally this visible.

We bought the screens through ClearView of San Mateo after seeing them at the Mountain View A La Carte & Art fair this spring, and getting them ordered and installed was quite straightforward. Installation took a few hours, but really there was nothing (including the price) which was beyond what we expected. We were also quite happy with how well the frame blended in with the door trim, including the dark brown bottom rail which works quite well with our wood flooring. We bought a few upgrades, such as low-profile handles, magnets inside the doors, and locks to hold one of the doors in place.

We almost immediately learned that opening up the doors cools off the family room and kitchen within just a few minutes. And the cats have been gradually warming up to sitting and looking outside, although at night we often have to close it up because Jackson starts jumping at bugs that come up from outside. I understand that other people have had problems with cats quickly figuring out how to get under the screen and get outside, but our cats so far haven’t tried. (We have on order an enhancement to put a piece of clear plastic into a slot at the bottom of the screen to prevent them from being able to do that.)

The screens are not invisible, but they’re not intrusive, either. And we did get heavier-duty screens to deal with potential cat paws on them. Plus it’s good to have them slightly visible so you notice they’re there and don’t walk into them. So far, neither of us has, and we haven’t tripped over the bottom rail, either. (And neither did anyone at our open house, as far as I know!)

We’d been thinking about doing this since we first moved in, and it’s great to knock down another long-standing home improvement domino.

Open House 2014

Yesterday we held our fourth annual open house, which is really just a party for our friends and neighbors. Of course, none of them have been as big as the first one, from the month after we moved into our house, but we’re still enjoying them. One frustrating detail is that we use Evite to send the invitations, but we are never sure whether the invitations it sends make it to their recipients, or if they end up in peoples’ junk mail boxes, or what. A lot of people don’t respond. But, we haven’t really found a better site than Evite, and the alternative is to send a bulk e-mail and collect replies that way.

Anyway, we bought too much food as usual, and made sangria and margaritas and infused water. It got into the mid-80s by the time the party started (2 pm), but the first people showed up around a quarter to 3, and by 4 pm it was cooling off pretty nicely. Plus our back porch is in shade by then.

The biggest downside to a large party is that I have good conversations with a few people, but there are many who I do little more than say ‘hi’ to. But as long as everyone has a good time, that’s the important thing.

I also tend to be in high demand to play with the kids – for some reason, kids love me. We had kids from ages 2 to 7, plus a (I think) 12-year-old, and they spent most of the afternoon running around in the back yard, kicking balls around and the like. We bought some bubble-blowing stuff and I made bubbles for them, and they ran around popping them.

We had a few guests who hadn’t been to the house before, so we gave some house tours, which is always fun. We also had our home’s builder and his wife come by, so we got to catch up with him.

At first we left the cats out to play with the guests, but after the first hour it was getting too chaotic and we wanted to leave the doors open, so we put them in our guest room for most of the party. I think Roulette and Sadie snoozed together under the bed, while Jackson was mostly resentful at being closed away from the action. When the party started winding down we let them out and the kittens came down to check things out.

Anyway, we had some folks stay until nearly 9, and I got to talk to several people I don’t see very often. We’ll do it again next year!

Meeting the Neighbors

Next door to our house is a house which is a rental property. When we moved in, our neighbor Juan told us that the renters were a bunch of Stanford students, mostly engineers. Other than saying hi to them once in a while when taking out the trash or mowing the lawn, we haven’t really interacted with them. That’s not so strange, since we have several neighbors we haven’t really met, but none of them are right next door to us. They’re mostly fine neighbors, actually; they’ve had a couple of loud parties, but never late into the night, and they used to have an old camper parked in their driveway right next to our joint fence which was there for a couple of years, and which left last year. That’s barely anything to complain about.

So the last two days I’ve been working the developer tools lab at WWDC, for which I woke up early (5:40 am!) and Debbi drove me up with her and dropped me off at the South San Francisco CalTrain station, and then I took the train back home, getting back around 7. Yesterday we also went to get my comic books and then out to dinner. And it was trash day.

We got home and found that someone (probably Juan) had brought in our recycling and yard waste bins (which we store around the side of the house), but the actual trash bin was missing. Since we and the neighbors put out bins right next to each other, I figured they’d probably brought our bin into their yard by mistake, so I went over to ask.

Sure enough, that’s what happened, and two of them went out and checked and brought it out for me. Then we ended up chatting for a while, because we’d never met! Three of their roommates came back while we were talking, and we learned that one of them had just moved in, and he’d brought the trash bins in, and didn’t know which were their and which were ours. So, an innocent mistake (as I’d suspected). But Debbi came out and we got to meet each other. Some of them are students, but others are working at startups. And it seems one guy – who’s since moved out – was responsible for most of the occasional wackiness we’d seen.

Anyway, now that we know them, they seem like nice folks, and it’ll be nice to have more people to say hi to around the neighborhood.

Oh, if they hadn’t been the ones with our bin, I have no idea where else it would have gone! So, glad I was right.

Another Ant Invasion

The summer we moved into our house, 2011, we had serious problems with an ant invasion. We brought it under control with Terro, and have only had a few minor problems with ants since then.

This year has been another matter: Two weeks ago we had an incursion in the kitchen, along the base of the cabinets. Fortunately we seem to have pretty dumb ants around here: They were just wandering back and forth, ignoring the trash, the dishwasher (under which they were coming in), and only wandering kind of close to the cat food. We put the cat food and water in trays surrounded by water, deployed the Terro, and in about three days they were gone.

Late last week, though, Debbi noticed a few ants on the kitchen counter, between the stove and the sink. A few of them made it into the sink, but there weren’t very many. Indeed, there were so few that it took us a couple of days of watching to see that they were coming down from behind the mounted cabinets. Again, dumb ants: Not going into the cabinets (you know, where the food is), and also ignoring the toaster oven and the stove. We deployed the Terro after moving everything off the counter, and holy cow have there been a lot of ants over there this weekend! Annoying the disgusting, but they sure did find the Terro quickly.

The problem is that by the time we see more than one or two stray ants inside, it usually means there’s a nest established fairly close, so Terro takes two or three days to get rid of them (i.e., for them to take enough of it back to kill the queen and the rest of the nest).

I wonder whether California’s drought is causing the ants to range places they usually don’t in search of water or food. We do have a lawn which we water, but I cut back the watering by over a third due to the drought, so maybe that makes a difference. Or maybe it’s a fluke.

A friend of mine suggested using fipronil around the base of the house to keep them away. “Good for a year”, he says. So maybe I’ll try that. If the Wikipedia entry is correct, it’s fairly safe. On the other hand, it does seem to be dangerous to bees, of which we have a number who forage in our yard. So I’ll have to think about it.

Anyway, we shouldn’t complain too much as a serious incursion every three years doesn’t seem too bad, and we are able to deal with it. But it’s still pretty annoying and somewhat disruptive.

Volunteer Tomato Plant

We have two large pots in the back yard where I grow tomato plants each year. (We don’t have a proper garden – someday, maybe.) Sometimes random weeds drift in and start to grow, but this year I got a surprise: A little tomato plant, probably from a seed from a tomato from last year’s plant that dropped into the soil, sprouted and started growing.

I bought a plant for the other pot, but I moved this little volunteer to the center of the pot, and it’s been doing pretty well so far. The store-bought plant is bigger and bushier, but I’ll take care of this little guy and see how it develops over the next two months.

Volunteer Tomato Plant

Power Outage

Last night just as I was about to change to bike home Debbi texts me: “We just lost power.”

Our neighbors say that our neighborhood loses power a couple of times per year, which has been about right for the three years we’ve been here. (By contrast, our old home, only half a mile away, lost power less than once per year.) Twice a year seems like a lot, and I guess it is, but wen they first told us this I figured it was because of the aging infrastructure of the neighborhood (most houses here were built in the 50s), but actually if we learn the reason it’s usually a different reason each time.

This time it was a power cable falling (for reasons unknown) and hitting a tree. I guess we’re lucky it didn’t start a fire, but it just blew out the power for a long, narrow strip of homes.

Oh, and did I mention that yesterday marked the start of a heat wave? So it was north of 80°F when I got home, and stayed pretty warm into the night. (It’s even hotter today.) So, no A/C last night. actually it was pretty reasonable inside the house when I got home (yay insulation!), but upstairs was still warm and made sleeping a bit uncomfortable for a bit.

Anyway, the outage torpedoed our dinner plans, so instead we were bad (very very bad) and went to the Creamery for dinner. By the time we got home, the estimated repair time had moved from 8:45ish to 11:50ish. And PG&E trucks were driving up and down our street looking at wires and poles with spotlights. So we lit some candles, took out the trash, tidied up downstairs, and went up to bed where Debbi zonked out and I read (and played iOS games) until I joined her around 10:30. (And yes, I blew out the candles first.)

Oh, we got some use out of the tea light lantern that Debbi bought me a few years ago:

Tea Light Lantern

The power did indeed come on around midnight, because our bedroom fan came on. So I got up and went downstairs, and found that the television had come on too. So I turned it off, prepared the coffee maker for Debbi for when she got up, and went back to bed.

The cats, by the way, found all of this incredibly confusing.

Today I worked from home (which I’ve started doing once a week and which is an experience worth its own entry sometime), and was very happy the power was back so I could have the A/C on. Not to mention power for our internet and my laptop. But mostly the A/C.


This weekend was an organization weekend.

Saturday we went to The Container Store and bought some industrial shelving for the shed, since the wooden boards out there kept falling down and weren’t doing the job. It was hot this weekend (80 degrees both days!), so we waited until after dark to put the shelves together and put them in the shed. They also provide more shelf space than we had, so now we have some extra space in there!

I had the bright idea to use some shelves we’d used at the townhouse for plants to store the extra pots that have been sitting on the ground for the last couple of years. I think I’d always hoped to find a place for those shelves somewhere in the yard, but there isn’t really a good place, so using them for storage is better than not using them at all.

We also bought some more shelves for the closet in the study, which straddle the cat litter in there. Sunday it turned out that Magic Online was down, so I wasn’t able to do a Magic draft and instead I went through a huge amount of stuff on the floor, on the bookcase shelves, and sitting on top of the filing cabinets and got it all put away, or thrown out. Some of it’s been sitting there for two years or more, and now the study looks almost fit for human habitation (well, by someone other than me).

Oh, and we also bought a new office chair (one of these); it’s not fancy, but it’s a lot nicer than the 20-year-old armless chair I’ve had since graduate school. Now I just need to find a good desk to replace my similar-vintage unit up there.

It makes me tremendously happy to either get rid of a whole bunch of stuff, or file it away and have space left over. Like I’ve really accomplished something and I’m behaving like an adult.

I got a lot of other things done, too, like testing the lawn sprinklers (which I promptly forgot to turn on, so I did that this morning), watering the plants, hosing down the glider chair on the front porch (which was quite dusty), and vacuuming parts of the house.

I think our big projects this summer will need to be putting in another shed to store larger items like the lawn mower, and installing some wall-mounted shelving in the garage. The ultimate goal is to clear out the other side of the garage so I can park my car in it (Debbi uses the side that’s already clear). That will be a bunch of work, but I think it will be the last of the work we’d planned to do when we moved in. Three years ago.

Okay, sometimes it takes me a while to get to stuff.

The Cusp of Spring

The lawn has been mowed:

Mowed Lawn

The solar lights are ready for deployment at twilight:

Solar Lights

The yellow wildflowers (or are they weeds?) have taken over the edging and haven’t yet died back:

Yellow Flowers

The Japanese maple is budding:

Japanese Maple

In some places places the lawn had gotten as much as a foot long. I did a pretty high cut for this first mow of the season, but it was still a struggle in a few spots.

The cheap solar lights I buy only seem to last for one summer. All but three of the ones from last year have stopped working. OSH was paying the sales tax on all purchases this weekend, so I bought the new ones, among many other things.

We have another Japanese maple in the front yard, and it’s taking off; I think a year ago it was a little taller than I am, and now it’s three or four feet taller. The one pictured above in the back yard is still only a little taller than me.

Supposedly we’re supposed to get a little more rain tomorrow, but I’m skeptical. I hope we get a few more showers this month before the rainy season winds down, though; we really need it!