Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Flossing the deck

Homes in the Pacific Northwest often have decks behind them, wooden platforms used for lounging and entertaining.   On sunny days they, mine is a favored spot for sitting in the sun and reading and enjoying the surrounding forest; on summer evenings, it’s a spot for dinner and conversation with friends.  I think that decks are mainly featured alongside wood houses in damp climates, where patios are impractical.

Unfortunately, decks accumulate dirt, moss, and mold.  After a couple of winters, the wood becomes dark and mottled and the whole surface becomes slick after rain and grey in sun.  Cleaning and staining the deck has to be done during warm months when you can be assured of several days of cool, dry weather.  It usually means a day of pressure washing, a couple days of drying, and a day of staining and sealing the wood.

It’s a huge chore.

This time around, we wanted to avoid pressure washing, since it’s expensive and damages the wood.  The “This Old House” DIY video suggested using a biodegradable cleaner instead, characterizing the job as “Somewhat easy, the work is a bit tedious, but not all that difficult”. Great.  So we set to work yesterday with a hand sprayer, brush, a sponge, and determination.

One thing that the video missed is the need to clean out the pine needles and muck that builds up between the slats of the deck.  So, the first job is to take a knife and run it between the boards, lifting out the junk, then using a blower to get rid of the debris.  I call this ‘Flossing the Deck', and it’s a hands-and-knees couple of hours for everyone,crawling along the slats and digging at stubborn clogs.

Once that was done, we started spraying on the cleaner.  I quickly learned that slower is better- waving the wand over the surface neither coats the wood completely or densely enough.  I also experimented with spreading the stuff using a sponge, but it cut the effectiveness significantly.  The best result was to slowly coat a three-by-three patch, wait 5 minutes, scrub it with a brush, then wash it off with water.  Blonde wood shone through like sun breaking between clouds (lower circle, above).

The difficulty is that decks are huge, and it takes a lot of 3x3 patches to cover the expanse.  Eight hours the first day; four the second before we had the entire deck was cleaned.

The constant rinsing also makes the moss slippery – I took a half dozen full-out flat-on-the-back falls. I tried rubber-soled boat shoes but it made absolutely no difference .

Among other ingredients, the spray cleaner contains bleach, so my clothes suffered.  The jeans, in particular, look like a 60’s remnant, white tie-dye patterns scattered along the outside of both legs.

But now it’s all done and looks great.  The video recommends putting down an anti-fungal boric acid solution, but there’s not a store in town that sells the stuff in the quantities needed for any reasonable price.  So I think we go straight to a stain / varnish combination after the drying ends.

The whole process was watched over by a bird nesting under the eaves.  She stayed calm despite all of the thumping and spraying – I had to break from time to time to allow her to get in and out.

There is always a lot of work to do on the house when I’m back in the US, fixing appliances and cleaning the garage, restoring the deck or picking out flooring.  I’ve gotten most of the shopping done, picking up provisions for myself and my fellow expats, and have gotten around to most of the people that I needed to see while I was here. 

Two days left: I’m behind on Dutch but keeping up with the businesses thanks to being awake early with jet lag.  Doing okay, although the muscle soreness is starting to settle in.  The (occasional) joys of (distant) home ownership…

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Fun on the 4th

It’s been years since I was in the US for the 4th of July, so it was fun to join in all of the traditional fun that accompanies the celebration.  Technically, it’s the nation’s birthday, pegged to the adoption of the Declaration of Independence in 1776, declaring the colonists independent of Britain.  A Scottish friend of mine questioned whether it was Britain or just England; a history teacher pointed out that the actual signing of the document wasn’t complete until August 4… whatever.  Since 1777, the day has been celebrated with special dinners, speeches, parades, troop reviews, fireworks, and red white and blue bunting.

In Washington State, picnics and fireworks predominate.  The local Safeway was filled with boxes of beer and steaks overflowing the meat counter; stacks of buns, chips, and condiments crowded the aisles.  Sousa marches played over the store’s speakers.  I remember this as a ‘family and friends’ holiday, a day in the sun to be lazy in the park or to play on the water.

We used to take a sailboat out from the Island Sailing Club where I was a member, cruising up Lake Washington to a secluded beach for a picnic, then back down to anchor off the 520 Bridge for the fireworks.


This year, we’re doing picnic and fireworks closer to home, though. My daughter brought her boyfriend by and I wet off to buy some fireworks from the local stand.  These offer ‘safe and sane’ fireworks, mostly small firecrackers, sparklers, and rockets, that complement the big artillery sold at Boom City up on the Tulalip Reservation.  I picked up a few favorites (Roman Candle, bees) and the Turtles and Jack-in-the-boxes that my daughter has always been fond of.

With the holiday set up, the afternoon passed preparing salads and kabobs, the evening competing with the neighbors setting off fireworks in the driveway.  The community events got rolling at about ten pm, large fireworks displays against symphony music in Bellevue and Seattle.  The smaller shows that Woodinville and Redmond used to have over the wineries have disappeared, victim of budget tightening and anti-fireworks activists.  But there were lots of neighborhood fireworks, rockets above the tall cedars in every color imaginable.

Someone asked how it compared to the Maastricht New Year celebration – our neighborhood 4th ended earlier and to had lots less fireworks overall.  The thick smoke that filled streets and squares in Maastricht was also missing.


Overall, a nice, relaxed holiday, a lot like I remember.  Now I just need a summer fair to complete the memory.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

On the (air)way west

I flew back to the US this weekend.  First a small Belgian train, then the Eurostar back from Brussels.  A  short night in a small Yotel pod (below) at Heathrow T4, followed by breakfast at the airline lounge and an early flight to New York.  There was a brief brush with Delta’s ground crew (We’re here to welcome all of our Diamond fliers – there were two of us, a little club) and with the NYC Border Police (I’m sorry sir, but those Limburg sausages will have to stay with us).  Finally, a long hop through choppy air over Chicago and North Dakota, and into Seattle late Saturday night.

It’s nice to be back in the US for a few days, it will be interesting to be part of the 4th of July again.  I have a lists from expat friends of bits and bobs that they have depleted in their absences, so there will be some re-provisioning ahead of the return journey.  There will be business meetings to start a new venture in the SouthEast.

There will be, for the first time, my daughter with a boyfriend.  (Note to self: bring Cuban cigars, thick and smelly, for (variously) intimidation, test of wills, bonding).

The various flights went smoothly; I wondered about people’s stories (you can never guess from appearances: try your luck on the tableaux, right) and flicked through the movie choices, looking for a trailer that resonated with my life.  I reformatted all of my 2011 financials for the accountants.

I talked about life in the fast lane with seatmates; one told me about a viral video of the difficulties in using bike lanes in the US.  Casey Neistat got fined $50 for riding outside of the marked bicycle lane in New York City: he filmed the encounter and produced a parody follow-up of trying to ride the within the lanes. casey-neistat The Slate Culture Gabfest followed up with their thoughts on the video, thoughts that included sending all sanctimonious bike-riders back to Denmark where they came from.


I spent time trying to sort the present perfect tense (I have studied Dutch before I came to Maastricht) from the past perfect tense (I had studied Dutch before moving to Maastricht).  It’s a fine distinction in English, but ranks as a Chapter 7 skill in Dutch, ahead of the Future and Passive tenses.

What is it about Europe that they are more fascinated with past tenses than future ones?  (Cheap shot, I know).