Archive for the ‘Roundrock’ category

staining the cabin

October 17, 2019

My wife and I, plus our two canine helpers, spent the weekend at our little cabin on the edge of the Missouri Ozarks with the goal of beginning to stain the freshly pressure-washed exterior.

I mentioned here before that when the man who built it handed me the key to the door (ten years ago next month!) he said I should stain it every three years. And so a decade passed without me doing this big chore. Fortunately, the pressure washing mostly restored the wood (or washed away the dirt and stripped the original stain so at least it looked restored).

They photo above, with one of many large walking sticks we found on the cabin — this one was about four inches long without its front legs extended — shows the “logs” under the porch roof. These were the least dirty and best retained the original stain, but after mastering the mad skillz of deploying a pressure washer, you see how I got down to basics. I loved the look of the wood, and I half wished I didn’t have to stain it, but I needed to protect it, and I organized a three-day weekend at the cabin to get started.

We brought along three gallons of the stain that Craig and his father-in-law recommended. I had calculated the square footage I needed to cover (about 750 square feet of logs and soffits and ceiling), read the greatly varying coverage reported on the cans (anywhere from 200 to 400 square feet), and figured that we could make a good start of the job, and then I could determine how much more stain we would need.

I had brought a ladder from home to reach the high spots, and my wife would work on the window frames then the lower logs. We had our brushes, our masking tape, and our drop cloths, plus we had just about perfect weather, with an unbroken vault of blue sky above us. (You could set a novel in a place like this!)

And so, we began. The wood was thirsty. My biggest worry was overlapping brush work. I really didn’t want the stain to be marbled with darker and lighter spots due to double application. I needn’t have worried. The cedar logs took the stain evenly despite the number of passes my brush made over it. (The only place where there was even the slightest bit of obvious overlapping was on the finer grained tongue-and-groove soffits and porch ceiling, but even then it was only noticeable because I was looking for it.)

With this worry out of the way, I was able to work more quickly, and in less than an hour I had all of the ladder work done (except for the entirety of the porch). My wife had moved at a similar pace, finishing the window frames and staining the lower log siding swiftly and smoothly. Having made much faster progress than I expected, we broke for lunch (sandwiches and cold, refreshing beverages).

After lunch we returned to the work. Each of us had a separate gallon to work from, and it seemed to me that we were actually going to have enuf stain in the three gallons to finish the entire cabin.

I think we spent 4.5 to 5 hours working that Saturday, and in that time we stained three sides of the cabin. We still had about a half gallon of stain left besides the whole unopened gallon. All that was left for us was the porch, which was actually the hardest part because of the ceiling and the extra soffit and the support posts and the desire not to get any stain on the concrete floor there.

But we’d done enuf for our first day, so we cleaned up as well as we could and put our gear away. Then it was time to build a one-match fire to cook our burgers over. It happened that only two days before the area had received nearly three inches of rain. I feared that the tinder would be too wet to catch, but that wasn’t the case. I soon had a fire roaring, and we added logs as well as the last of the scrap lumber I had brought from home to get enuf coals to shovel under the grill for our (and the dogs’) burgers. All of this happened in daylight (since my wife hates to cook in the dark for some reason), and after we’d finished eating our food and drinking our cold beverages, we continued to stoke the fire as the sun set.

A barred owl hooted occasionally, and far-off farm dogs barked, plus what sounded like fireworks came from well to the southwest, but it was too late in the season to hear a whippoorwill. Still, the fire burned and crackled, and the crickets chirped, and the full moon rose through the trees to the east. There is a point with a campfire when you have to decide whether to add more wood and stay with it longer as it burns or stop stoking it and let what’s there burn to ash. We reached that point and decided to stop stoking. We still had work to do the next day. I eventually quenched the few remaining coals with a gallon of water, and we retreated to the cabin.

Of course it smelled like wood stain inside the cabin, and despite repeated washings with soap and water, I’m sure my hands were part of the reason. But rest came easily after a day of work, and even the dogs let me have most of my bed this time.

I woke as I habitually do sometime after 3:00 a.m. and stepped outside. The forest was quiet, which is something I rarely experience except in winter visits. But then I crawled back into my warm bed, the approximately 44 degrees outside on the porch was not so wonderful to someone with barely anything on. Somehow I managed to fall back to sleep for another two hours, but the sun was preparing to peek over the trees to the east, and there was breakfast to be had as we waited for the temperature to rise enuf to apply more stain to more wood.

Breakfast consisted of instant oatmeal (pretty much a staple at the cabin) prepared on a propane stove. There was also fruit, and my wife made herself some instant coffee that she declared acceptable. I had my iced tea (unsweetened, of course). The dogs disdained their kibble and would only eat their soft treats (and any of our food they could cadge).

Then came the second day of work. Once again, I did the ladder work, which involved the eaves and the entire ceiling plus the first three logs from the top. My wife did the rest. By careful maneuvering of the drop cloths, and some additional taping, we managed to make our way across the porch, staining as we went, and barely getting any drops on the floor. Because the ground slopes away from the front of the cabin more steeply than elsewhere, some of the ladder placement was sketchy and challenging. But by then I had been up and down the ladder dozens of times, and I was so near the end that I didn’t let myself worry about things like falling to my death.

By lunch time, reader, we had finished. I had taken Monday off at work so we would have a three-day weekend to do as much work as we could, and we managed to do all of it in less than two days. (Yes, I found that I could have been more thorough about pressure washing some parts of the porch, but it’s all so much better than it was.) Plus we still had about a third of a gallon of stain left. And here is the result of our labors:

It’s actually a little darker than I had hoped, but it may lighten as it dries. Even if it doesn’t, it’s fine. It looks good, and I feel that the wood in protected (for another three-to-ten years). Next up is repainting the door and frame. The critters have chewed up much of the lower door frame, and I doubt they’ll respect a fresh coat of paint, but it will look good.

So on Sunday afternoon we packed up and headed home, leaving ourselves an entire Monday free to do with what we would. (And what we did was tend a barfy three-year-old as his mother coped with her own stomach cold and her infant daughter.)


My cabin sits about a hundred feet uphill from my lake. Much of the cabin is surrounded by gravel, and it’s been a ten-year job to keep the weeds from overtaking the gravel. Part of the solution is to have four inches of gravel on the ground, but even that’s not enuf sometimes. I also have begun experimenting with landscaping fabric under the gravel, to prevent weeds from finding light. I don’t want to use herbicides on the weeds since I’m so close to the lake, so I also use the old tarp you see above, moving it to various gravely places to sit for weeks or months to starve the weeds of sunlight. The best time to do this is during the growing season, and the move I made last weekend (just to the east of the fire ring) will probably remain there all winter.

This old tarp was our original shelter in the days before we had the cabin. It did a pretty good job, trussed in various ways to stay taut and shed water and snow. Where the cabin now sits there was once this:

wet weekend at Roundrock

September 30, 2019

I made a solo trip to my little cabin on Friday for an overnight, with the promise of chores and the threat of rain.

My little cabin has stood mostly neglected for more than a decade. When the man who built it handed me the key to the door, he said that I must remember to stain the exterior every three years. Somehow, “next season” was always the time I was going to get to that job.

Well, I’m getting to it finally.

The eastern-facing side, which is what you see when you arrive or fool around by the fire ring, was showing some of its age. Much of the original stain had faded out of some of the “logs” there and a few near the bottom were specked with mildew (or is it mold?). I had once tried spraying the mildew (or mold) with a bleach/water mixture, but that didn’t seem to make a difference. And one other time — likely years later — I tried scrubbing away the mildew (or mold) with a stiff brush, but that accomplished about the same.

The log siding under the porch, protected from rain and sun as they are by the roof above them, showed the least age, and since that is where we spend most of our time — siting in comfy chairs overlooking the sparkling lake — the chore of re-staining the cabin somehow never seemed urgent. Plus there was the mud nest that the phoebe had built on the wall under the porch roof. That had been there for years, and we watched each summer as she successfully raised several broods. It seemed wrong to destroy that.

But a few conversations with my neighbor Craig, and a little gentle but insistent prodding from me, lead to him agreeing that I could use his pressure washer to clean the “logs” of my cabin prior to staining them. And the stars aligned last weekend for this to happen.

I had asked at the hardware store in town about renting one of theirs, and the price was right, but the problem was having a sufficient supply of water to do the job. Sure, I had a 2.5 acre lake just down the hill, but lake water, the man at the hardware store assured me, was too dirty to use in a pressure washer. Fortunately, along with a pressure washer, my good neighbor Craig also had a big old truck with several large stock tanks on the back and a deep well that provided plenty of water to fill them.

When I got to my cabin late Friday afternoon, Craig’s big old truck was already parked beside it, ready for the next day’s big old task.

From the left that’s the east-facing exterior of the cabin, Craig’s big old truck, and my red Prolechariot. (Also, you can see the slowly diminishing mineral block in the foreground that doesn’t seem to be doing anything to prevent the critters from eating my cabin.)

We agreed that they (Craig and his father-in-law, Tom) would come by my cabin on Saturday at 11:00 with the rest of the equipment and show me how to use it. And promptly at 11:30 they arrived. Tom has more or less lived at his own cabin (a little over a mile and half from mine) for a long time. (It helps that he has heating/air conditioning as well as a full kitchen, television, and a flush toilet!) Yet in all of his years, Tom professes that he’d never visited my cabin. I appreciate that he respects private property, but I think he is fibbing. More than once in the past he commented about how beautiful my lake is, which, of course, he couldn’t know unless he visited it. (Also, this man is building his own ultralight airplane!)

I had never used a pressure washer before, but more than ever I understand having the right tool for the job! Craig got all of the attachments made and the flow going while Tom held the wand and pulled the trigger, test spraying two logs on the east-facing wall.

I was immediately surprised and impressed by what a few seconds of pressure washing did to the two-foot section of a couple of logs on the side of the cabin. What had looked like a pretty good patch of cedar showed itself to be filthy but then suddenly clean. I had no idea. (Also, gone instantly, was my wife’s original suggestion that we just stain the cabin without washing it first.)

Nor did I have any idea how big the job before me was when Tom handed the wand to me and stepped back. The pressure from the nozzle was constant, but the closer I got it to the wood, the more dirt it would remove. I was learning as I was doing, and all the while I was getting wet. I had once calculated that the exterior wood of the cabin came to about 750 square feet. The pace I had to maintain to clean the logs properly — and I could easily see the difference if I did it right — meant I had several hours of work ahead of me. (Add to this six windows that needed to be worked around gingerly. I had taken out their screens so I could use the pressure washer to spray out their exterior sills, filled as they were with dead bugs.)

Tom and Craig, meanwhile admired the view of the lake from the cabin porch and then made themselves comfortable in the chairs over by the fire ring. They would answer any questions I threw at them, but otherwise they seemed content to sit under the shade of the trees.

What you see above is typical of what I saw as I worked. I truly had no idea how dirty the logs had become over the years. I’m not sure if I was merely washing away the dirt or ablating the wood itself. When I got to the porch, which has a concrete floor, I noticed a lot of cedar-colored wood fibers gelling on that floor.

You can also see the flaw in my technique. I was cleaning patches rather than swaths, as shown by those vertical contrasts on the left. I figured these would go away as the wood dried or certainly once I had fresh stain on, but Craig corrected my mistaken notion. The stain, he said, would likely enhance this contrast. But we didn’t discuss this until I was all finished (finally) and the equipment was taken apart and loaded onto his big old truck.

And so, I wasn’t finished. I now had misgivings, and I knew I would regret these markings forever, and Craig said something like “Well, the equipment you need is still here,” so we put it all back together and I took a second shot at the cabin walls. My goal was solely to smooth these vertical contrasts, and I pretty much did, but I also found on my second pass, that there were several logs under the porch roof that I was able to clean even more thoroughly. (I think I was less vigorous there on the first pass because I believed the logs were protected and thus not so dirty.) And so, just as the clouds that had gathered during the long morning finally began sending down fat raindrops, my work with the pressure washer was finished.

These three are shots Craig came back and took after the rain had stopped and I had gone home. To my jaded eye the cabin is glowing. He sent me a text saying I used about 250 gallons of water. That would have been a lot of three-gallon buckets of water hauled up from the lake!

So now I have to let the wood dry, which is going to take some time since we have rain in the forecast for the next ten days, and then get about staining it. I don’t want to darken the color; I really just want to enhance the grain and protect the wood. I am hoping to use a sprayer for most of the work rather than a brush, but I’ve never used a sprayer before either.

So the adventure continues.

wordless Wednesday

September 18, 2019

an overnight at the cabin

September 4, 2019

After walking miles on Saturday morning at the zoo with my three-year-old grandson (and his parents and his infant baby sister), and then coming home and generally cooling off for a couple of hours, my wife, the dogs, and I decided to go to the cabin at Roundrock for an overnight. We didn’t leave until 4:00 in the afternoon, which, I think, is unprecedented for the lateness of our departure.

It was not our most productive visit to the cabin.

First of all, I know you’re thinking that you’ve already seen the photo above, and it’s true because you have. But in the month since my last visit (!) the wasps have been busy. Behold:

I think the work is done; there were no wasps working on this while we were there. Part of me wants to scrape all of that off of the cabin, but I’ve left a phoebe’s mud nest on the cabin (also under the porch roof) for years, and wasps are our friends. Still, I’m trying to arrange a power washer to clean the exterior of the cabin prior to re-staining it, and if I do, both of those mud structures will be gone.

My hope was to have a fire on Saturday evening to sit before and contemplate the universe and my sorry place in it, but when we turned off the paved road to bump along the two miles of gravel road to the cabin, we splashed through a bunch of puddles; rain had apparently fallen that very morning. If so, the kindling on the forest floor would be wet and might not catch no matter how much tinder I used. I had a copy of the local newspaper to use as my tinder, and since that resource is in good supply (and free), I wanted to see how well it worked.

I have built fires in twilight, but I wasn’t eager to do that this time, so once we got the truck unloaded, I began collecting kindling and crumpling the newspaper to serve as tinder. The kindling was wet, so I gave myself permission to use more than one match to get the evening fire going. I needn’t have bothered. The newspaper sheets burned quickly and were soon gone, and the smallest bit of kindling had the smallest orange flames licking on it as a result. They didn’t last long. The tinder was gone. The kindling was wet. My mood was dampened. So I didn’t try lighting the fire again. (Note to self: Brown paper bags make better tinder. They burn hotter and longer than newsprint.)

With no fire to sit around, and with far more than 12 hours already on my consciousness clock for the day, and with the sun setting behind the western ridge earlier than official sunset, we decided to retreat to the cabin for the evening. We had a new LED lantern we wanted to use (and promptly broke the older LED lantern). I sat at the table and made notes in my visit journal, and some notes for a story that was blossoming in my head all afternoon, and then retired early. Flike had gotten into my bed before me though and claimed pretty much the center of the space. Since there are still horseflies buzzing around, he’d had a bad afternoon, so I tried to ease into bed around him. His rapid panting soon subsided to gentle breathing, so I was glad of that.

I managed to sleep for nearly twelve hours. It’s a little indulgence I allow myself at the cabin (and it helps balance the rest of the time when I wake freakishly early). Then it was time to rise and see what might be done with the day. Outside the remains of my attempt at fire (above) reproached me. The air was cool — in the 60s — so a dip in the lake wasn’t going to happen. I thought about maybe cutting down a tree beside where I park the Prolechariot, but that never happened.

About all we did was make and eat breakfast (oatmeal, various fruits, coffee for my wife, tea for me, both iced and hot, both unsweetened) and sit around. She read while I continued making notes for that story. I would rise occasionally to throw a stick for Flike to chase and to make sure Queequeg hadn’t been carried off by a bobcat. But actual chores, like spreading more gravel or pulling weeds, or even wandering down to the dam to see how much worse the spillway had become, didn’t happen.

I think we only stayed long enuf for lunch because we had lunch to eat in the cooler. But once that was dispatched, we began the hour-long process of packing up and cleaning up so we could head back to faraway suburbia where there was indoor plumbing and hot showers.

random photo Monday

August 12, 2019

Another photo from the archive. This is not only one of the round rocks from my little bit of forest on the edge of the Missouri Ozarks, but it is my favorite round rock. I keep it on the bookshelf beside my desk at home so I can see it constantly.

It’s not perfectly spherical, but it is among the smoothest surfaces I have unearthed. These rocks “grew” in the chemical stew that was created when a meteor slammed into the shallow, salt-water sea that once covered what we now call Missouri. The mix of pulverized minerals and the salt water (called breccia) caused substances to adhere to shards of stone (mostly shale) and grow into the round rocks that dot parts of my forest.

I am returning today from my long weekend in Paducah, Kentucky. I got to see my mother and aunt and sister as well as my daughter and her husband and my three sweet grands who travelled there from New York, some of whom are coming to Kansas City tomorrow for a two-week stay!

random photo Thursday

August 8, 2019

What you see is a collection of throwing sticks for Flike out at my little cabin on the edge of the Missouri Ozarks.

As far as Flike is concerned, the cabin exists as a site where I will throw a stick for him to chase and then to bring back but not give to me, keep-away apparently being the preferred game of Border Collies.

When we would arrive at the cabin, he would leap from the truck and grab a stick from the gravel then bring it to me to throw. His timing wasn’t the best since there was the unpacking of the truck and the opening of the cabin to get done.

Eventually we moved his sticks into the cabin for safe keeping, but that merely led him to scrounging for any stick he could find in the forest for me to throw.


Apparently I am an advanced sleeper. I’m not sure if it’s innate or if I’ve trained myself this way. I can remember sleeping in on the weekends until noon sometimes — which seems horrible to me now.

nearly wordless post

August 1, 2019

My engineer son tells me that this is probably an insulating block from a kiln at a metal smelting plant. He collected two of these for me at a job site, and now they are part of the decor at my cabin in the woods.