We have only a little bit of time left before our twins arrive and I will be hard-pressed to find time to do small maintenance projects around the house. Over the past two weeks, I've been trying to catch up on some things that we've been putting off for a while. Albert came for another visit, so we drafted his help for some more work around the house.

Fixing the Gate

The first task was to fix the gate in front of the side entrance to our house. It is through this gate that one must go to take out the trash. It also creates an enclosed area in front of our garage that has a little bit of privacy. If we had a grill, we could grill in this area. As it is, we hang clothes to dry here and ask that the UPS and Fedex delivery people leave packages on this side of the house. The problem is that the gate barely opens a foot and a half before the lower edge drags along the ground, and pregnant Agnes could no longer squeeze through the gate.

gate before repairs

When we first bought the house, we knew that this gate dragged along the ground, and a handyman who was fixing some of our windows said that it was obvious that the gate was not built by a carpenter. The cross bars should run from the top in the middle diagonally down to the bottom hinge. This helps the bottom hinge support some of the weight of the gate, instead of having almost all of the weight be placed on the top hinge alone.

When I asked Albert to help out with the gate, we decided we should brainstorm some options. The first option we considered was to completely replace the gate. At Home Depot, they sell gate-making kits that provide a solid rectangular frame on which one can attach wooden slats. This would be a lot of work, but it would give us the opportunity to build the gate in a way that we know it won't drag. The second option we considered was to put a wheel at the bottom of the swinging edge of the gate. This wheel would left this edge of the gate so that it no longer dragged, and the wheel would allow it to swing open freely. We discarded this idea because we weren't sure we could attach a wheel to the gate in a way that would be solid and precise. The third idea we had was to switch each side of the gate with the other. The cross-bars would point the right direction and we could drill new holes into the wood so that the gate would not droop as it hung from the hinges. This is the option we chose to pursue.

We went to Home Depot and bought new wood screws and then came home to take the gate off of the hinges. Once we moved each gate to the other side, though, we discovered the real problem with the gate. The problem is that the antique hinges that are built into the side walls do not sit horizontally to the ground. The piece that attaches to the gate points slightly down toward the ground. We couldn't mount the gate back onto these hinges without suffering from the same problem.

We ultimately came up with the solution, which you can see here.

gate after repairs hinge

We reattached the hinges where they were before, but put some washers in the hinge to raise the entire gate by almost half an inch. This allows the gate to swing open completely. Cost of repairs: $1.55 for the eight washers we used. Granted we did also buy some wood screws that we ended up not needing, but that's beside the point.


A couple of months ago, we discovered that our doorbell no longer worked. This wasn't good. My mother in law came over to our house once and tried the doorbell. Agnes was at work, but I was at home I didn't know she was at the door until I came out of the house an hour and a half later. My mother in law had been out there the entire time. She had decided to pass the time by weeding our flower bed. She wasn't sure if I was home, or she would have knocked.

Our old doorbell was set into the stucco wall next to the front door. I had no idea what it no longer worked, but when I unscrewed the button from the wall, I found some very old wires behind it. It's possible that a wire broke somewhere in the wall, which is why it no longer works, but I wasn't about to go breaking into the wall to try to replace the wires. I remembered seeing some wireless doorbells at Home Depot -- the button uses a battery to wirelessly signal a chime that is plugged into an outlet. Albert and I bought one of these wireless doorbell sets and installed it.


Okay. I know it looks a little ghetto. We didn't repair the diamond-shaped hole in the stucco where the old doorbell used to be -- I don't know how to match that stucco color. The new doorbell is much thicker than the old one in order to fit the battery inside. There are some more attractive looking buttons that we could buy to replace the one that came with the chime, but we haven't gotten around to it yet. I think I'm going to have to put some kind of decorative panel over the stucco hole and put the button on top of it. I'll leave that for another time. It's functional, but ugly. We just need to make sure we fix it before we try selling the house.

Vegetable Garden

Our backyard is one big rectangle of grass. We've long considered doing some landscaping to possibly put in a vegetable bed. Agnes mother pushed along this effort last week when she brought over a wintermelon plant and a few other plants for us to put into our backyard. We couldn't leave these plants in their pots for very long, so I finally got around to digging up some grass to clear the ground for these plants.

Digging up grass is not easy work. Grass does an excellent job of putting down roots and holding onto soil. I cleared a patch near our wall big enough for our four new plants, but when I got to the wall itself, I found that I couldn't dig further because of the foundation of the wall.

I know it's a little sad looking. I think I'll try laying a row of bricks around the border and putting in a watering system. As for now, I'll just have to go out there frequently with a watering can to make sure our new plants don't die. It's nice though. Agnes and I were talking about possibly planting some tomatoes in there next year.


Walls in Torrance are restricted to six feet in height. Our neighborhood has a number of two-story houses, which means that people can see into their neighbors' yards. It means we don't really have a lot of privacy in our own backyard. Agnes' mother suggested that we plant some cypress trees to eventually form a wall protecting our backyard from prying eyes. We planted the cypresses last year and four of the five took root. The fifth one dried up and died and we have been thinking of replacing it for a long time.


The new replacement cypress is the one of the very right. As you can see, the cypresses are not even as tall as our six-foot wall, but they are growing quickly. All five of the cypresses used to be the same height as the one on the very right. Hopefully, they'll continue to grow well. We probably won't be here at this house by the time the cypresses grow to be two stories, but they'll get a good start.

A New Wall

Our backyard is surrounded on the left and right sides by cinderblock walls, but the back is a wooden fence. This fence looks nice, but the neighbors on that side have a dog that likes to jump up against it. As a result, the fence has been starting to sag inwards a bit. Our neighbor back there asked if we would be interested in splitting the cost for replacing the fence with a new wall. He would find the people to do the job and make sure that it gets done properly. We said we were interested and that he should call us when he had more details.

They started tearing down the wooden fence this weekend. I hadn't heard from our neighbor and they had simply decided to start work. Not an ideal situation, but it looks like our neighbor is willing to be responsible for the entire work up front and we can contribute whatever we want to help him out with the cost. As I was finishing up our vegetable bed, half of our wooden fence came down, narrowly missing the plant closest to the fence. The people working on the new wall, but the fence back up a couple of feet into our yard, which gives them room to build the new wall, and it keeps our neighbor's dog from coming into our yard. This is what it looks like.

moved wall

I peeked through the hole in the fence today to see what kind of progress they've made. It looks like they've laid the first level of bricks and put in some steel reinforcing bars. Hopefully they'll be done in a couple of days. We don't need to go into our backyard for anything, but it'll be nice to have them be done. I just hope they don't mind that our backyard sprinkler probably reaches the area where they're working.

new wall in progress
More Work?

Well, that's a lot of the work we've needed to do around the house, and I'm glad that we've made good progress on most of them. I'll need to fix up how that doorbell looks, but we have a bit of time. Eventually I think we should get an electrician to fix the original doorbell, and take a look at why the electrical outlets in the nursery are ungrounded. We also want to get some flooring people to come in to repair our hardwood floor where our old floor furnace used to be. There is a sub-floor there that is safe to walk on, but it is still unsightly. I guess one is never done with working on a house you own, but it's still better than renting.