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Here is an interesting thought: in 1776 George Washington was leading the American Revolution. For some reason it never really occurred to me that other things were happening in this country-to-be at the same time. For some reason that revolution doesn't seem to be all that long ago, just a little over a couple of hundred years.
My ancestor Zechariah Blakeman III was 23 years old. Was he in that war? He was; I just looked it up.
In 1776 he was a private in the Connecticut militia. He married Anna Hawley a year later in 1777. They had 5 children, the 5th of which died near birth as did his mother Anna within a year.

Two years later Zechariah married Sarah Beard. They had four children including my ancestor Treat Blakeman, born in 1786.

Then I discovered that his father, Zechariah Blakeman II, "… a soldier of Stratford Connecticut who was killed at Fairfield at the burning of that town by the British". He died in 1779 at the age of 59.

I am speculating that Treat could have been given that name in honor of Robert Treat Paine, a signer of the Declaration of Independence.
There have been no other Treat Blakemans in this line. FWIW: in 1876, a legal matter states that Treat was not a lawyer. Another historical document states that he "… was a man of affairs active and enterprising in business."
Likewise, Treat's younger brother Robert. As far as I can tell, he was the only Robert Blakeman in our entire line back to Adam Blakeman's birth in 1596, that is until my cousin Robert was born in 1972.
At the same time in 1776 the mission in San Juan Capistrano was being built by Spanish missionaries and the natives. That had always seemed to me to be somewhere around the beginning of time. I had not even known about the year being 1776 until I looked it up while I was writing about our trip north through Santa Barbara, comparing its mission to the one in Capistrano.

We have driven by the place many times over the years. I lived nearby in the late 60s and again in the mid 70s. In fact, I explored the Capistrano mission with my mother in 1967 while my dad was at a City Planner's presentation in San Diego.

I imagine that the people in what would become California had no clue that there was a major war going on at the other side of the continent. Perhaps they might have heard about it from French Canadian trappers or other wanderers passing through, if those travelers could speak Spanish.

HELLO, goodbye, I'M LATE, I'M LATE ...


Regarding this year's journal, it has been a long time getting here. Seven full bodied full storied subjects have been created with lot of pictures, each pic processed individually card size and full size to be its very best, all text reviewed and rewritten and reviewed and --- ad infinitum.

Whereas last year was completely dedicated to just one fun subject.

Plus of course in all years, the Gallery of favorite pics.

And when all of that is done, then this Journal gets written …

And when all of that is done, the Index to all pics is created.

Then, DONE! DONE! Really DONE.

Which is about the time that the first of the next year's projects begins. By ‘year', I am talking about when it all begins, which is probably not the current year.

The seven projects and/or adventures in our 2016-2017 visit to Joshua Tree were:
  1. Travelling The West Coast's Highway 101
  2. A Hummingbird Nest Inside Our Deck's Jojoba Bush
  3. Complete Rejuvenation Of Our Non-Mobile Home
  4. Installing A Preformed Pond And A Flat Rock Patio
  5. Upgrading Our Solar And Installing An Air Conditioner
  6. Cleaning Our Rheem RTG64-XLP Tankless Water Heater
  7. Building A Better Trellis

It took a little under six months to do and/or observe those seven subject matters.
It took a little over four months to create these eight pages and to rewrite the software that I had created to do the repetitive work and thereby save time. I don't know why a minor tweaking of the software so often becomes a major rewrite.
Hence, we have about two months to write this Journal, assemble the Index and to get on with life.

Feel free to click on them to get some in-depth background for some of what is in this Journal.
Each has its own Comment box that you can click on to tell us what you think or to ask a question.

East to West transition


At 10:30 AM (EST) on Wednesday November 16 the small Cape Cod DART (Dial-A-Ride Transportation) bus picked us up at our front door and took us to the Barnstable Park & Ride lot off of the Mid-Cape Highway. That cost us $1.50 each, paid in cash (which I did forget about until just now).

At 11:40 AM the big high-tech Plymouth & Brockton bus took us to Boston's Logan airport, arriving at 1:30 PM. We had bought the $48 (the next year they were $54) pair of bus tickets two weeks prior with my AMEX card at a gas station next to the Sagamore Park & Ride.

I prefer using cards so that I don't have to remember anything or hang onto a receipt, and it will download easily into my MoneyDance bookkeeping software.

At 3:02 PM (EST) we flew United BOS thru DEN to PSP, Palm Springs, arriving at 8:13 PM (PST). We had paid $381.20 for that in October with my AMEX.

At about 8:30 PM we departed PSP in our Hertz rental for Joshua Tree. We had paid $56.82 online for that and another $58.19 when we returned the car the next day.

An additional $2 to USPS to forward our mail, $7.99 for snacks on the plane and a -$5.75 AMEX-Hertz rebate and misc. coffee & donuts brings the trip total to about $600.

The same trip a year before had cost us slightly over $1200, the $600+ excess was the cost of bringing our dog Molly with us. She passed away the following summer.

Welcome home


We arrived at our home around midnight to discover that we had no water, the pond that waters the trees was empty, the computer was down, and the car wouldn't start.
Eileen says that I have to add that the bed wasn't made either.

About that: On the previous May 11, I had been way too busy surveying and modeling a potentially urgent (non)addition in SketchUp to mess with the bed.

Due to the tight space and low headroom under the overhanging book shelf, it is not an easy task. Before you pull the bed out, the first thing you have to do is vacuum the dust under and around the bed. The upright vacuum does flatten enough to reach under the bed but it doesn't even come close to the power and the versatility of the long narrow hose and neck of my antique Shop-Vac, itself out of the way in the next room. Then after the bed is pulled out you have to vacuum along the wall that the clean bed sheets and blankets will rub against. While you are there, it's a good time to vacuum the dust and cobwebs under and around the wire shelf above, the sloped ceiling over that and the thousand or so dusty books crammed in between, being very gentle with the old dry, split and peeling John Steinbecks, Ian Flemmings, and John D MacDonalds, etc..

To keep the bed from moving around on its castors during normal use it is firmly locked into place by suitcases jammed down between the headboard and the wall behind it. Therefore those bags, the upright vacuum's charging base, the spare cushions and the laundry hamper have to be taken outside to be dusted off. Likewise, the blankets and the bedspread have to be carefully folded into the center, carried out to the deck, shook vigorously up into the open sky (trying not to fall off of the boulder I am standing on) and then aired out on the retractable clothes lines.

When Eileen is present, there will also be a half dozen or so USPS boxes under the bed full of wrapped treasures that she has found at the local thrift shops, which she sells in her shop back east over the summer season. Even with the cost of shipping, I think she still nets a profit.

With all that stuff done and/or out of the way, then it is a good idea to vacuum everything again including the window screens, ceiling and the stripped mattress. On that note, we have even been known to carry the mattress and box spring outside for a good day of airing in the wind and the desert sun. We do not do that often.

Anyhow, when we arrived around midnight, Milady remained in the car while I went inside and made the bed. This time it was not too difficult to ignore the dust, though we did get most of it at a later date. I completed the task and she entered, as I dutifully carried in the bags and placed them on the bureau.

I then sat back in a comfortable chair out on the moonlit deck and relaxed with my all-is-well end-of-trip beer before going to bed.

At about the same time, Eileen was discovering that there was no water.

Getting water


Fortunately we did have some in our Zen Water Purifier's tank and in a few small half gallon jugs that I had left in the fridge. These are the jugs that I normally place around in handy places so that I am never ever without water when it happens to cross my mind. That is when I immediately stop whatever I am doing and chug-a-lug a mouthful or two. I have learned to not put that off; to not wait until I am ‘thirsty'. By then it is just about too late; my saliva is already turning into glue and I am becoming dangerously dehydrated!

The next morning, Thursday the 17th, after bringing the computer back to life and messaging the High Desert Water Transport people on Facebook, we drove the rental into town, bought a few gallon jugs of water and had breakfast at the Country Kitchen, meeting the new owner Sara. Under doctor's orders our old friend Marienne Uy had sold the place and retired, though I understand that she still cooks and delivers her specialties as needed.

It appears that our water tank up on the hill had probably been emptied by the submerged tree pump on Wednesday at about the same time that we were flying out of Boston. This is surmised because the collapsed blanket of algae in the pond was still wet underneath.

Our solar guy had shut down the electrical system mid-September so the computer went down with it. He was unable to restart it. The full story is in the article "Upgrading Our Solar And Installing An Air Conditioner". Therefore the camera that watches the pond was down and unable to show me a lowering water level. And I was too distracted by other matters to realize that Dan would use a lot of water mixing his concrete to hold the new panel rack in place and therefore I should order new water earlier than usual.

Gary pulled in with a truck full of water on Friday the 18th at 11 AM. At that time we were 50 miles away getting an emergency battery replacement in our Prius.

He normally does Joshua Tree on Tuesdays and Thursdays (I think) so he was going out of his way to bring us water. Opening the 1.5" white PVC ball valve at the bottom end of the 70 foot black ABS water line, the plastic handles broke off and gashed his hand. He departed rather quickly. Hence, no water.

When we returned, I discovered this and opened the valve with my channel-lock pliers. I let Kim his wife and office manager know.

Gary returned on Tuesday the 22nd and uploaded 2000 gallons of precious water. He then closed the broken valve with the pliers before disconnecting his hose.

As time goes by PVC becomes even more brittle. I have seen it shatter in freezing temperatures. The black ABS is a bit more flexible. That is why the entire system is ABS or copper – except for the valves. At the time I don't recall there being any 1.5 inch ABS valves. PVC valves were way less expensive than other options and back then I did not know that they were that brittle.

The red PVC handles can be replaced but that is just asking for a repeat of the same sometime in the future. I looked around Home Depot and Builder's Supply. They had no other options that I could find. There was a new store in town called Tractor Supply and I decided to check them out. I assumed they were just farming supplies but I went inside. I was blown away – they had a lot of really cool stuff, and they had a 1.5" valve that I had never seen before, a Green Leaf Polypropylene Bolted Ball Valve, very solid looking bolted together body with a long green steel lever for a handle. Polypropylene is what they make car batteries out of; it can absorb any kind of abuse and it would never become brittle. I was in love. I brought it home. That was January 17 but I did not actually install it until the 31st. We got another load of water on the 24th where we used the pliers method one last time.

FYI, our next load was on March 14, so that gives you an idea of how quickly we can go through 2000, give or take, gallons: 49 days or 7 weeks. Eileen the daily shower lady had departed Palm Springs on February 28, just about cutting our water consumption in half, so if she had remained until the 14th, that 7 week period would have been more like 6 weeks. The next was August 4 since we were away for most of that time. That is not a scientific study at all. The previous period, 11/22/16 to 01/24/17, was 8 weeks and she was showering the whole time, so go figure. Well, we were away for a week in December so with both of us gone, I guess that kind of works.

Our Compooposter


BTW, our compost toilet does not use water. About that: every time we have a bowel movement, we dump a scoop of compost onto it. The compost is stored close by in what was designed as a reasonably air tight dog food container, tight enough to keep the flies and their eggs out. The bag of "Sun-Mar Compost Sure Green 30 liter (8 gallon)" fits nicely inside.

Normally, before we use it we rotate the handle on the front of the Sun-Mar Compost Toilet which rotates the barrel inside mixing the contents, done ‘before' so that the previous load has had some time to dry out, but not too much. Every so often we rotate it backwards which dumps a load into the drawer below. That heaping drawer full of fairly dry and moderately well mixed compost gets carried outside to be dumped into our eComposter for long term composting. Believe it or not, it just smells like compost; nothing rancid; most of the time.

The recessed floor inside under the drawer and barrel is called the pan. A low wattage evaporation heater is permanently imbedded into the pan. You cannot get to it or even see it; you just have to go on faith that it is there. Inevitably the liquid urine (filtered through the compost) and some compost mix spillover from the barrel drops into the pan and builds up especially if you are using a brand of paper that does not dissolve quickly (like Charmin, etc.).

This excess liquid has to be removed. It is supposed to drip out through the two rear corner overflow drains that lead outdoors to a leach field a few feet below grade. That is another thing that requires faith; you can't see it working.

Sun-Mar provides a plastic scraper for pulling the stuff forward. Mine eventually broke so I began using what was my long handled windshield scraper. It is a little awkward. I also use a shallow coal shovel to scoop it up and dump it into the drawer that is now on a rubber mat on the floor in front of the toilet, with a paper towel between the two to catch the inevitable drips.

Eventually I decided to buy and use a wet-dry shop vacuum dedicated to this purpose. That is easier and cleaner to use – and it helps remove anything that might be blocking the rear drains. However, I did find that it would be wise to place it into a black plastic basin with a rubber mat draped over the vacuum's outlet to send the mist and drips down into said basin.

We have two eComposters. While one is in use, the other is off and out of the way gradually turning everything into real compost. In the desert this requires adding a bucket of grey water now and then, followed by a fast 180 degree spin. When the 2nd eComposter was nearly full, the 1st had to be emptied. By then it had been sitting and composting for about four years.

Part of it had already been dumped around an old male Jojoba bush that was in need of some nourishing soil. The rest got dumped onto our front ‘lawn', broken up and spread around. This spring we actually had some real green grass there, though I think that had more to do with a lot more rain than is usual. The desert rabbits certainly enjoyed it and kept it trimmed.

With all that rain we actually had a real waterfall above and behind our home with a stream flowing down and through the wash beside our deck and around the raised patio and pond. Even with the new solar panels that were recently installed, we still had to run the propane generator a few hours each day to charge the solar batteries.

The battery that dies a thousand deaths


About that battery, the small hidden expensive one in the right rear corner under the mat that powers everything including the ignition, the one that Toyota had replaced the previous year. As far as I know, it is not connected to the big battery bank that drives the car in any manner, which has continued to function flawlessly since 2007.

This little battery is always dead when we return after a six month absence. Normally a burst of energy from the Hills Towing truck gets it going, and then a drive around the neighborhood keeps it that way.

So on Thursday after breakfast, Hills got it going. We returned the rental to the Hertz place in Yucca Valley, drove to Wal-Mart, parked, shut off the engine, bought a load of groceries and water, and put them in the car.

It would not start. Called AAA, Hills showed up and started the car. We went for a long drive, got our mail and drove home.
In the morning, Friday the 18th, the car would not start. AAA and Hills Towing again. We drove straight to the Toyota place. They replaced the battery with a new one for free. This one is guaranteed for seven years. There have been no problems since.

Slow-forward four months to March 12. I installed an exterior electrical outlet on an existing post near the top of driveway. I then plugged in a DelTran Battery Tender Junior that I had purchased recently on the advice of the Toyota guy.

On May 11, before departing in the new rental for the Palm Springs airport, I connected the tender to the small battery on the rear right side. When we return this coming November 4, 2017 I am assuming that the car will start right up. We will see.

The addition that wouldn't be


Regarding the aforementioned potentially urgent (non)addition, nothing happened. Yet. In the 2015-16 period I went back and forth working hard with the building department to get my design right – to where I could then apply for a permit. Meanwhile the presiding code enforcement officer was suggesting that I was not. The friendly tax department lady dropped by and left saying to let her know when the permit had been granted. It is true that I had done a lot of work on the place since I bought it in 1967 and that I had never obtained any permits.

A vindictive neighbor who did not like her tenant being disturbed by my generator, whom I had politely told to f*** off, called code enforcement. That tenant has since moved away and I have seen neither since, but I have seen a lot of emails and a few visits from code enforcement people.

Until suddenly it dawned on us that we had not heard from them in a long time. We did not get the annual registered letter threatening to tear our place down and send us the bill. The only clue I have is having overheard a building inspector quietly muttering "… all this because of a nosey neighbor." He later mentioned to me that he had sent a note to the code enforcement officer through their intranet asking him to stop.

Well, I think the SketchUp plan is ready for turning into blueprints should we have to resume this battle, but if we happen to have the cash one day we may want to consider hiring a contractor to submit his own plans and build us a legal house. However, whatever we do, I may have to emotionally let go of our non-mobile home and wrap a garage around it to make it legal. That of course would only follow repeated attempts at fighting for a variance by whatever means possible. We will see what develops; or not - no hurry.

A slip in time


On the Joshua Tree 2012-2013 web site I describe the construction of a solid raised 8' x 12' platform and stairs, under which would eventually go a stone wall, a sound barrier and a generator, with a reasonably sturdy made-in-the-USA 8' x 10' Lifetime shed on top. The platform had a very slight southwest tilt so that it would shed rain rather than letting it settle under the plastic shed and rot the wood.

The shed came with very specific directions. I read them thoroughly, more than once, but I am not always good at following directions, so my belated message to me is "Get with it fool; follow the damn directions - exactly!".

When the shed was fully built, the directions said to bolt it down with lag screws and big washers. I did not. I wanted to use it right away. I carried everything in thinking that the weight of all this stuff would hold it down. Wrong!

The platform also had a pair of solid 4x4 posts up front attached to the stairway railings. I had planned to extend more posts and 6" railings around both sides which would have also locked the shed in place, but that never happened. So at that time the shed was about an inch in on either side and even on the rear, leaving about 2 feet of chair space up front.

Five or so years later, it had rotated a bit. The right rear corner was now almost even with the platform's corner, hanging over a half inch or so. The front right corner was hanging out into space about 3 inches. So what moved it? Probably the wind. An enormous boulder and stone wall overlapping the top rear would have served to protect it from the wind, but the occasional gale force wind gusts could have grabbed the front end and nudged it to the right. Maybe an accumulation of undetected earthquakes could have made it bounce a bit. Basically it had followed the southwest tilt that I had provided to shed rain.

So how to move it back where it belongs without throwing the interlocked shed floor, wall and roof panels out of whack. With lots of nylon rope and a come-along winch I slapped a 12 foot 2x6 against the bottom of the outside wall and pulled it very gently back into place.

Inside there is a round shallow depression in the plastic floor about 2 inches in from each corner. I drilled a 3/8" hole though the center of each front depression and down through the 3/4 inch plywood and just slightly into the 2x8 beam below that. I then went underneath, found where the drill had cut into the beam leaving a trace of sawdust, and then glued and screwed a block of wood to the beam beside each hole.

Back on top, around each hole went a rubber hose washer and a wide fender washer on top of that. Into each hole went a 3 inch x 3/8" lag screw which was tightened down enough to get a firm grip but not enough to make the washer start cutting into the plastic. The hose washer was also there to keep that from happening. I did not do the rear corners because there was too much stuff back there to move out of the way. Besides it was only the front that had done the moving. The rear had simply followed.

To complete this job, if only to make it look right, I will have to add those additional posts and railings ASAP.

Gone to the birds


It seems that with no dog or cat around to distract us and to keep the local wildlife at bay, that wildlife is making itself noticed.

The desert cottontail rabbits have always been around and have had no problem getting along with our dogs and cat. We have one old guy under our deck that Eileen will entice out from under now and then with a tidbit of carrot. He keeps an eye on things but remains close to home as the youngsters frolic out in the open hopping over each other and running back and forth. These are the ones that a passing coyote or bobcat might notice.

The desert jackrabbits, on the other hand, have been in hiding as long as we have been here. We might see them in the distance. If we walked or drove near one, he would be gone in a flash so I never really even got a good picture. Now there is a big family of young ones hanging around our place and they don't take off when I am nearby – nearby but not too close. I have even seen them go under our deck.

The redwood deck on concrete piers is open on three sides and low to the ground, but high enough for an old tortoise to crawl through if need be. The higher fourth side hovers over a stone wall that runs along the wash. The larger predators often travel through the wash where they may pause at our pond for a drink on occasion, or they cross along the hillside above us.

That makes the deck a pretty nice hiding place that the big guys have no interest in crawling under.

Our resident Mourning Doves have been around for a very long time cooing and loading our gutters with bundles of sticks. They did make a similar nest in our clothes pin bag once so now we bring that in when the clothes are folded and put away. They also put a nest of very dry sticks on top of our water heater just above the vent so I put a big block of wood up there that they don't seem to find attractive.

We have many different kinds of Hummingbirds residing nearby. There is one that likes to stop and hover outside my office window and look my way for a moment. I say Hi and then he/she is gone. This seems to happen almost every day.

It might be the same one that I got to know quite well while I was taking almost daily pictures of her nest, eggs and chicks. That got its own web page. I would speak quietly to her while doing this and she did not seem to mind. In fact she almost seemed to enjoy the company. I understand that they also like the company of Hawks because the Hawks keep the Blue Jays away and Blue Jays eat eggs. Hawks do not.

Another slightly larger Hummingbird likes to zip in behind our pond's waterfall, take a sip and zip away, at least while I am sitting in my canvas butterfly chair on the patio that wraps around the pond. So far I have not been able to coordinate my camera clicking with his or her visit.

My personal favorite is a pair of House Finches that I believe have been with us since day one when we found their nest in the roof vent of the home that we were beginning to restore in 2001. We did not disturb the nest until they were done with it. They have been in a few other pictures taken over the years:

Recently, while I was sitting on the deck enjoying a coffee and looking down at the pond, they showed up with a youngster in tow. We elders remained nearby and attentive as the chick figured out how to hop onto a floating block of wood and bend over to take a sip without falling in. I took a lot of pictures, none of them very good because I was too excited over this unexpected privilege.

There is also a good supply of Wrens and other small birds of many colors, Hawks, Blue Jays, lots of Gambel's Quail, a dignified Roadrunner, an occasional Falcon on the peak above us, a patrolling Raven family overhead, a number of curved beak Thrashers that appear quickly when Eileen starts throwing tasty gifts around, and others...

Back east, outside my office window is an azalea bush that turns hot pink in the spring. I have pruned it back from time to time on the inside. If the leaves are too close to the open window, the rain hits them and bounces into my office. When I am in the office I keep the window wide open as long as it is not too cold. When I leave the office for a length of time, I close it. I only use the screen when the bugs become too numerous.

Out in the driveway you see a large ball of pink and/or green between the big box bushes. From my window, you see a network of narrow branches and bird sized leaves with the large roundish seemingly impenetrable bush of tiny green leaves on either side.

Throughout the spring and most of the summer a pair of Gray Catbirds can be seen hopping in and out of the azalea branches. The gray is actually multi shades of gray and a tinge of dark red. They look at me and I say Hi and they say Peep. At one point they began to show up with inchworms or bugs in their beaks as they would then slip quietly into the adjacent box bush.

One day a small fluffy chick appeared on the branches with his folks and practiced hopping without falling. They were quite proud. He/she grew in size and then one day was gone from his folk's bush and they resumed ownership. I would still see all three out and about on occasion until they all disappeared around mid-August, probably flying south. I hope they survived the hurricanes.

After my noon nap I like to sit out by the pool with a cup of coffee. Sometimes Eileen would join me with her tea. Early in the summer, I noticed that one or both Catbirds would also show up hopping around on the ground or on low branches. I would say Hi and they would say Peep.

On June 30, one of them hopped onto a small table about 15 feet to my right, looked at me and proceeded to tell me a story. Though I could not really understand what she was saying, I could tell that it was important so I nodded my head and said "Yes. Of course" as she talked away. Eventually she finished and flew up to a branch above us and then away. The only other possibly relevant matter that happened on June 30 was the famous debate on Charles Darwin's theory of evolution at Oxford University in 1860. Who knows?

Another time, one of them landed on the edge of the pool looking like she was about to dive in. I said No, there is chlorine in there, so she hopped sideways and I said No again. This repeated itself a few times until she gave up and flew away. I was thinking I might have saved her life. The next day she came again to the same spot, but before I could warn her she leaped out to where her claws skimmed across the surface, grabbed a bug and then up and away. Boy, did she show me; she knew exactly what she was doing and made sure I knew about it. By this action, I am pretty sure that the "she" part is correct.

These birds are definitely intelligent, have memories and think about things. They communicate. It wouldn't surprise me if one day there will be an app on our phones that can interpret what they say, just as they are doing now with human languages. Scientists are learning the language of dolphins and whales, etc.. We knew that our dog Molly knew and understood what we were saying. Birds? Of course. They have been around a lot longer than we have. It stands to reason that they have developed a language that they understand amongst themselves. Their innate intelligence could be way ahead of us, patiently waiting for us to develop our bird-brains and catch up, if only by phone.

BTW, before departing Joshua Tree on May 10, I got all comforters dry-cleaned and I made the bed. I cleaned the fridge too. I am good.



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