Taking Advantage of the Rain

We get a lot of rain in Florida. It’s known as the sunshine state but this is kind of a misnomer. In the summer (the “rainy season”) it rains almost every day for a half hour in the afternoon, and in the winter (the “dry season”) it rains about every three or four days when a cold front blows through. With all of this rain it would seem like the plants would be just fine on their own, but there’s some nuance to the weather that led me to install some rain barrels to the downspouts on my house.

First of all, I live pretty close to the coast, which means that the sea breeze can keep the summer storms just inland. It can go weeks in the summer without raining at my property, while every afternoon I can look west and see huge thunderstorms. So it’s good to have a free source of water for all of my plants in case the thunderstorms don’t make their way over to me for a few days.

Additionally, since the rain comes down so hard so quickly, the water management organizations in Florida actually encourage people to get rain barrels because it reduces stress on the storm drain systems. Always nice when the local government is on board.

So I have one system with a 165 gallon capacity in the back which is hooked up to a pump and a hose, but I recently put in a smaller system closer to the house for filling up watering jugs. This is just a 55-gallon drum that the city gives out to property owners for free, which is already equipped with a spout, a screen on the top (to keep debris and mosquitoes out) and an overflow hookup. I have a small section of roof with its own gutter, so this small system is perfect for this spot.

First, I had to grade the area a little bit and limit erosion. There was a little slope leading down to the only crawlspace access point so I found some concrete blocks in a neighbor’s garbage and used them to build a little retaining wall. Some other concrete blocks serve as the platform for the rain barrel itself.

When I bought this house there was a hot water heater tank in this spot in its own little house. It was horribly constructed and took up way too much space, so I pulled it out and put in a tankless hot water heater. That freed up some space for the rain barrel and, as a bonus, I can take hot showers of unlimited length now.

Rain barrels are a great way to get water for plants or for whatever you need (although it’s not good to drink it without proper preparation) and they can help your local ecosystem too! I plan to add a few more and do a more thorough how-to in the future based on my other solar-powered pressurized rainwater system.

So, A Lot Has Happened Recently

Yep. I know it’s cliché for a blogger to say “sorry for not posting so much!” but really… it’s been hectic lately. Let’s run down the list!

First, I got a new job. Same company but a different location, new boss, mo’ money, etc. It’s much more interesting than what I was previously doing, and it came with some other perks as well. I’ve been spending a lot of time transitioning to my new office and my new role. I also work longer hours but it’s offset with “flex time” so I’m pretty happy there too.

The only downside is that since the new job is in the city, I wasn’t too comfortable riding my motorcycle to work every day. When I commuted 50 miles a day into desolate, swampy south-central Florida it wasn’t a big deal because there wasn’t ever any traffic and about 95% of the drive was on divided highways. The new job is a much shorter commute but it’s stop-and-go traffic through some congested roads. That’s not good for motorcycle safety. So I bought a car.

And, since I’ve mentioned it before, I didn’t get a new car. Although I did think about it! I was in the Honda dealership about to buy a Fit when a particular manufacturing detail caught my eye and caused me to abandon my pursuits. Let’s just say that I’m worried that Honda is going to have the same problems that Volkswagen has in North America, but that’s a topic for another post. Hint: it has nothing to do with diesel.

So I bought a Mercedes. And not just any Mercedes: A 31-year-old turbo diesel. I picked it up for about what my down payment would have been on the Honda, but it did take me about three weeks’ worth of work to get it running again. It had been sitting unloved for about four years, so almost every day when I came home from work I’d open the hood and twist bolts until the sun set. I’ll be writing a little bit more about this soon, since I’m a big proponent of buying antique cars as a way to save money.

And yes, I do have my Volkswagen still, but it seems to have decided that now would be a really good time to blow out its rear main seal. I’ll have to drop the engine to fix that but sometimes old cars take some coaxing to get back on the road. I’m not particularly upset about it because I know it comes with the territory of owning an older car. Plus, I don’t consider the Beetle reliable transportation; it’s a fun project that keeps my engineering brain sharp that I could sell at any time for essentially the amount of money I have in it. It’s win-win for me!

Oh, and I did sell my Yamaha motorcycle, so that went to offset the cost of the Mercedes a little bit. I got it essentially for free when I bought my house, so I’m chalking that up as a win too.

Speaking of the house, though, I started doing some repairs to my detached garage… which quickly turned in to more work than I was expecting. So that’s been going on too.


This was what was holding up my roof. Sort of. You come across things like this when your house was built in the 40s and you live in a really wet area with lots of termites.

Let’s sum up. New job, still writing for a few blogs on the side, mowing a few lawns in the neighborhood on the other side, new old car that needed fixing to I could get to work without fearing for my life, old old car needing major repairs, garage in shambles. Oh yeah: my first priority regardless of all of my projects is generally to get to the beach and surf if the waves are up. And the past three weeks we got epic surf from Hurricane Joaquin. And I do not use the word epic lightly.

It was like this for three weeks. That’s unheard of for South Florida, especially since we’re still in the rainy season. And my bike got stolen too. Aww! So there’s been a lot on my plate, but I’m back now!

Photo: Not your grandmother’s car, but close. 

Do A Little Bit Every Day

I had a friend back when I lived in Tennessee who always had the perfect bit of folksy wisdom to dispense whenever I found myself in a bind. He lived his whole life right around the border of Tennessee and Alabama and worked numerous jobs, his most recent was as an electrician. One of the more memorable nuggets was when I was stressed over a girl, and he said, in a deep southern accent, “Bryan, I believe you’re chasing something that don’t need chased.”

Since we worked together we had a lot of time to get to know each other. He built his house from scratch using lumber he felled on his property, he worked on classic cars, and I’d get advice and help from him when I got stuck on a project because he had so much practical knowledge. The best advice he ever gave me was during a suspension rebuild I was doing on a truck, and I had been getting overwhelmed with the incredible amount of work that was going to have to go into it. He told me that, no matter what, I needed to do at least one thing on that project every day. Even if it was just tightening a bolt, I just needed to get in there and do at least something. If I did that every day, eventually I’d be finished.

It’s kind of like “divide and conquer”. A project might seem difficult when viewed as a whole, but when it’s divided up into smaller bits each bit becomes a solvable problem. Before you know it, the project is complete. This works on everything from restoring a car to remodeling a kitchen to building a relationship with a person to starting a business. Any big, complicated problem is a series of smaller, easy problems.

The hidden genius here is that a lot of the time we’re afraid to get in and start. Starting is the hardest problem of all, and once we start, we find that the things we want to do are actually the things we like doing. We’ll often accomplish much more in one sitting than simply tightening a bolt once we get started. One thing I enjoy is working on cars. I get intimidated when I start a big rebuild of some sort, and I have to practice thinking about that huge, overwhelming project in terms of lots and lots of tiny projects that I can slowly chip away at.

I’ve also just started this blog, so I have to get myself into the habit of writing a little bit every day. I need to metaphorically tighten the bolts on my writing, rather than sitting around waiting for writing to magically pop out of thin air. If I write a little every day, not only will there be lots of blog posts to read, but I’ll hone my skills as a writer, little by little, and hopefully become better at it. Just as working on cars more makes you better at working on cars, writing more makes you a better writer. (To put it simply, “experience” makes you “experienced”. Nuanced!)

(As an aside,  I really like how Joshua Fields Millburn goes about developing a writing habit.  Two of my favorite essays of his are Creating Daily Writing Habits and How To Improve Your Writing: 3 Tips.  The latter really struck a chord with me because it talks about how he was an “aspiring”  writer long before he actually became a writer.  You have to actually write.)

There’s often no time limit for our life projects, either. You don’t have to fix a relationship right now. You can do it slowly, methodically, and carefully over time. In fact, you should strive to work on projects a little every day. Otherwise you’ll end up with a rusty junker in your front yard that’ll never get fixed. Both literally and figuratively.

So what bolts do you need to tighten in your life? Do you have an empty room in your house that’s been under renovation for months? Do you (like me) have an old car you’re constantly restoring? Do you have a marraige or relationship that needs attention? Do a little bit at a time, at least one bolt a day.

Photo: I-95 and Florida’s Turnpike by helicopter. Florida is very flat. The blurriness in the picture isn’t because I was using a bad camera but rather because the air from the helicopter rotor moves down so fast that it distorts the incoming light.