Monday, June 30, 2008

Workin' on a Moonburn

My iPod is a better predictor of rain than any forecaster ever dare be. I should have known on Saturday when during my many errands, back to back, it played: BB King's "Stormy Monday," "Rain King" by Counting Crows, "Red Rain" by Peter Gabriel, the Doors' "Riders on the Storm"as interpreted by Creed, and "When I Look to the Sky," by Train of which the entire opening is about rain.

This is the second time in recent weeks that it has done that and it has rained like hell within the next 24 hours. (Deluge out of nowhere late Saturday night and on and off rain all day on Sunday.)

And, of course, since I have to work, it's going to be dry Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. And, since I get off early on Thursday and am off on Friday, it's supposed to pour. Also storm chances on Saturday and Sunday. Not sure what the first part of the week looks like but it will probably rain then, too, as I am taking vacation Monday and Tuesday.

So, it appears I'll be workin' on a moonburn through midweek, going straight from the job where I make the money to the other job where I spend it. It's particularly aggravating because, except for digging out the front section and putting in bricks, I'm very, very close to having the larger portion of the porch DONE. So close, but not done.

We'll see what the iPod says tonight …

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Schizophrenic Weather

Some days it just isn't worth the fight. Today was one of those days.

It was clouded up already when I got up. The forecast didn't give me any better news. The Doppler showed cluster after cluster of showers headed our way. The good news: the plastic-covered mortar was safe.

While I made no progress on the porch yesterday, I did get lots of things done. I got the yard mowed -- front and back, thank you very much -- and was really impressed at its performance without a bagger. (I purposely left it off when I did the back, planning to go back over and bag since I hadn't cut back there in two weeks!)

But once I'd cut, the mower had pretty well mulched it! Just a few little spots where the cut grass was strewn about. Impressive.

I went to two hardware stores (one where I purchased the mortar) bought 100 more bricks, hit Wal-Mart, grocery stores ... lots of running around. After coming home, unloading, putting everything away, and then mowing, I was beat. But I did laundry.

So, I'd hoped that today could be devoted to the porch. I really wanted the larger portion done, except for digging around the outside edge. But Mother Nature was not in a cooperative mood. The house was dead center of black clouds and blue sky. Dead center. Weather could go either way. Guess which way it went?

I decided I'd start out by cutting some bricks for the outer edge. I didn't get the first brick cut when Rain Round 1 began. I unplugged the RotoZip and put the cord under the carport. Twenty minutes later, the sun was out.

This set the stage for the afternoon. Schizophrenic weather: It's raining. Now it's not. Yes it is. Now the sun's out. Now it's pouring. Wait, here comes the sun.

After hours of this, I really thought it was done. I spent the next hour setting down a row and a half of bricks and loading up a new supply to within reach. Suddenly, the wind gusted, the sky darkened, and it poured. POURED.

Screw it. I quit. I put things away or under the carport and went in, completely and totally disgusted. I decided to hit the showers. It was great to get all the dust off of me. The sun was blazing through the windows as I got dressed. The sun has been back out for the last two and a half hours now.

Mother Nature, you're a real beeotch.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Calling It A Day

I started my day later than I intended. I was going to go out and work on the porch but the Doppler kept showing rain on or in my neighborhood. But it didn't rain all day... until about 40 minutes ago. And it POURED. In fact, it still is.

This wouldn't be a problem except IT WASN'T SUPPOSED TO RAIN. And since it WASN'T SUPPOSED TO RAIN, I cut a corner. I didn't haul 180 pounds of mortar out to the shed. Oh no. Not me. I backed the car in at the front of the driveway and unloaded the mortar in the carport. I DID take the precaution of putting it on some plastic and wrapping some around it. I only hope that it does some good.

I also unloaded 100 more bricks in the driveway. Where they can get wet.

So much for my early start plan for tomorrow. I may well go out to find three huge concrete slabs that used to be mortar and 100 bricks soaked through, clearly not a good thing to lay atop mortar mix.

Mother Nature is clearly PMSing.

FYI: Paint Sale!

'Tis the season for all those painting projects. I always watch for Behr sales and they're doing their few times a year event at The Home Depot now.

Here's the details of the sale which ends July 2. You get $5 off a gallon or $20 off a five-gallon pail.

I got mine during the Memorial Day sale like I do every year, but I may pick up a gallon of primer since the new porch railing that is going up once the brick is done will need it.

Happy painting!

Friday, June 27, 2008

Toys for DIY Girls & Boys

Fighting through the throngs of people at not one, but two, grocery stores notwithstanding, I didn't do much Thursday night. I was tired (and deservedly so after porch work both Tuesday and Wednesday nights).

So there I was with my laptop (like always) watching TV. Flipping channels, I stumbled across DIY's Cool Tools show. OMG! How could I not know this existed? (I know. I'm an idiot!) The world was probably a much safer place before I knew. I've never seen the show Home Improvement, but I'm told that I am the embodiment of the Tim Allen grunt when it comes to buying tools. I'm telling you it's a genetic defect. Clothes-shopping does not do this for me.

Even if it's stuff you'd never use -- or never think you would -- it's at least good to know what's floating around out there. The site has a continuous video stream of new products in addition to info on all the stuff you may have seen on one of the shows. Last night, I happened upon the episode from the 2007 Hardware Show. (Man, I'd be dangerous at a place like that.)

Three things I really liked -- and may well buy -- were:
  • The EZClean paintbrush which quite literally cleans itself. And if you're like me, cleanup is the worst part of painting!
  • The BaseMate ladder leveling system which makes sure your ladder has two legs to stand on in awkward spots.
  • The Power Pull Leverage Hammer to deal with those really stubborn nails.

You can find info on these and other exceptionally interesting products at the Cool Tools Store.

I'll definitely be checking it out again. It's on DIY every Thursday at 9 and 9:30 p.m. ET.

Is It Friday the 13th?

It’s Friday, and ordinarily I would be bordering on ecstatic and wishing everyone “Happy Friday!” But it's starting out more like you'd expect a Friday the 13th to. Today it will be difficult not to just punch people instead. Just chalk it up to sleep deprivation. I think I’ve had 10 hours or so of sleep total since Tuesday, thanks to my household.

Can I just pack them up and ship them all to parts unknown? Just for a few days? (Everyone except Tigger. He can stay. He’s not on my list.)

Toby the Cat, being a male, being an unneutered male for a variety of reasons, has decided most nights this week it would be a great idea to yowl to see if a girl will come visit him. Logical and perfectly acceptable, if it weren’t 1 or 2 a.m. when this starts.

Then there’s Carole, my 65-year-old. To her credit, she regularly gets up and makes Toby shut up. But other nights, she’s worse than he ever dare be. Take last night. When Toby was quiet. That’s when life in a small house sucks because, unless you’re deaf, you hear everything. And I’m on the other side of the kitchen. When a cabinet or drawer is opened or closed, it sounds like someone is coming through the wall. It’s very annoying. Particularly when this occurs at 4:45 a.m. (She regularly does this kind of thing within 30 minutes of the alarm.)

Particularly when this occurs after I’ve only just gotten comfortable again from getting up with Ozzie. Ozzie, who awakened me at 4 by farting in my face. It was one of the most disgusting things ever to awake to that. Now while I appreciate that he woke me up, rather than waking to the alternative, and I appreciate that this was probably not intended, it was no less disgusting.

What was worse – and why he is on my list – is that he didn’t want to come back to bed after things were settled. He went in with Mom. Fine. I just shut my door and got back in bed. Five minutes later … he’s whining and butting the door. I get up and let him in. He won’t come to me to put him up on the bed and he proceeds to pace and pace, flopping momentarily in his own bed and on the floor. Clack. Clack. Clack. I hear his feet on the wood.

I am almost asleep – I still have half an hour before the alarm goes off – and Carole is at it again. Slam. Boom. Pop. Then, from her room, clack, clack, clack of a spoon against a bowl. About that time, it starts to pour outside.

I nestle against my pillow thinking this will drown out all of it and I can grab 30 more minutes. But no.

“Hey,” I hear my mother yell from down the hall. “It’s pouring.”

Gee thanks, ma. I’m so glad you told me as I could not hear the banging of the rain against the window right next to me and come to that conclusion on my own.

In the eternal words of Moe, “Remind me to kill you later.”

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Homeowner’s BFF: The $1 Store

OK, admittedly, there’s a lot of crap to be had in your local dollar store, but it is also a treasure trove of items you can use around the house. Why pay more elsewhere when you need that extra cash for other money pit-related tasks? Here are some of my favorites:

  1. Buckets. Who doesn’t need a bucket? For the past two years, I’ve been using a pair of sturdy one-gallon black plastic numbers, one of which has become my “cement” bucket. Ideal for small patching jobs or for working on small areas of a big project. I use its twin for water only, and when empty, to gather up all my handtools so nothing gets lost.
  2. Paint brushes. Now these are not high quality but can be used for small painting jobs. They are PERFECT for odd jobs like sweeping off a board you just cut or the saw you just used to cut it. And, they come in a variety of sizes.
  3. Hardware assortments. One of my favorite things ever was a plastic case filled with all kinds of nails of differing lengths, thicknesses and even finishes. I’ve used several to hang pictures. This kit also contained some very tiny nails that I have now used all of and can’t find more of, even at the hardware stores!
  4. Scraper/spatula. It’s not like you get from the Pampered Chef – but then I’m not recommending you cook with it either. The silicon-like tipped ones are great for stirring paint, putty, or concrete patch, because things don’t stick to them.
  5. Gloves. You get double-duty here because you can buy both the dish-washing, Living Glove, single-pair kind or the multi-pack of single-use latex gloves. Use the thicker ones for cleaning, staining or using paint thinner. Single-use are GREAT for painting or patching jobs. Limits number of manicures you’ll need.
  6. Clothesline. Not only did I use the nylon/rubber blend rope for a clothesline in the backyard, I used some to wrap around shrubs and temporary pull them away from the house to paint. I also added loops to handtools to hang them in the shed.
  7. Scissors. I usually get a new pair every year or two just to use outside. They’re great for snipping open concrete bags, slicing open bags of rock or grass seed, and for removing those god-awful plastic ties that every manufacturer seems to secure its products in the package with.
  8. Drop cloths. They’re not very thick, but they’re good enough to keep paint, dirt, dust, or water off any surface in an emergency. Perfect for light duty. (Wal-Mart used to have three-packs for under $3, but that shot up recently thanks to oil prices.)
  9. Goggles. While I do own one really good pair, at this price, I can toss a set in with most of my power tools and my yard gear. They may not be the best, but they’re better than nothing. And if they’re handy, I’ll be wearing them.
  10. Gardening apron. I don’t garden. I use mine for jobs where you need 30 different things. When I put the laminate floor in last year, I kept spacers, tape measure, pencils, pliers, screw drivers (the last two for removing wayward staples left from the carpet) all handy. Less time looking. More time working.

Don't Look Now: Progress!

I've figured that I have six more rows to finish the larger portion of the porch. I worked last night until every vestige of light was gone. The lightning bugs were keeping me company, but so were the mosquitoes, or I'd have flipped the porch light on and kept going.

See how far I got. The first picture is from June 15 while the other was snapped just this morning.

There’s something satisfying about mixing up a small batch of mortar, slathering it all along the edges of some foundation bricks, and returning a short time later to find the whole thing setting up nicely. No wobbling. I’m always amazed when I come back to find that it didn’t fall over. Perhaps I did this in a previous life. (The life I wasn’t a pack mule in. See, I hate to make more than one trip to load or unload if I don’t have to, something I think is left over from my life as a pack mule. But that’s another post.)

As slow as the porch process is going for me, you’d think I was trying to replicate The Great Wall of China. It must be incredible to actually be skilled and be able to build things like houses. (Hard to believe that centuries ago people did just that with some mud and straw.)

Still, I have to admit that this has been more satisfying of a project than I anticipated. And two evenings of work have moved things along nicely. Of course, it doesn’t yet involve the destruction of the concrete walkway. I’m thinking that leveling the concrete will be a fantastic stress-reliever, although incredibly tiring. And what do I do with it, once I break it up? It’s questions like that that keep my mind racing at night.

What bizarre, house-related quandaries cost you sleep?

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Waxing Nostalgic

My morning commute takes me around the edges of the town where I grew up. It was a lot like growing up in Mayberry RFD. Everyone knew everyone or was somehow related. You could leave even the most valuable of things on the porch or in the yard – they’d still be there the next day. You didn’t DARE do anything to cause trouble in the next block. Your parents would know about it before you even got home.

As an adult, I’ve heard all the stories about its real-life Peyton Place melodramas, but even in my early childhood of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, it still had a degree of the innocence that was present when my mom grew up there, her mother grew up there, and even her mother before her grew up there.

The place was never a haven for the ultra-rich, though there were a handful of rambling, historic homes. Today, the few that remain are not only shadows of their former selves, they’re barely homes at all. Mostly, there are vacant lots where they once stood. Even the smaller, quaint homes, many of which were immaculate when I was a kid, with lawns to match, have been reduced to boarded up shacks, or, in many cases, more overgrown vacant lots. The home that I grew up in is a few blocks off the main drag so I never see it. I’m glad.

In fairness, some of the homes still look quite nice. In fact, some look better than they ever did. But these are in the minority. Many days, I can’t bring myself to look as the bus rolls through. I occupy myself with a book or else I cat nap. It’s too depressing.

On days when I drive to meet the bus across town, I also go through an area that was once the gem of our locale. If you lived in the town where I do now, a few towns north of my childhood town, the “park district” was one of the only places to live. Its perimeter begins in what was once a thriving downtown. A downtown that, more than 20 years ago like so many other downtowns across smalltown America, succumbed to Wal-Mart and the advent of the strip mall. A downtown that looks very much like my childhood community now does. A downtown where the bus terminal, built just a few years ago on the site of what was a historic theater, is the nicest place around.

Sadly, block by block, the neighborhood around it has been disintegrating. And like a rampant virus, its reaches have expanded to blight more and more blocks.

Lately, though, as you get a few blocks from that formerly thriving little shopping district, a change seems to be in the works. Homes are being restored – and not just by those who are looking to flip them for a quick profit or use as rental property.

There are some grand homes in this neighborhood, many with historic roots, and bearing plaques that designate them as such. But in recent years, even those homes have been on the decline as many of the people who would have enforced their historic status have moved away. Mom and I talk about this a lot. It makes us sad.

Then, as the weather started changing a few months ago, I saw the beginnings of a transformation. Scaffolding going up in one block. Concrete being poured in another. Paint being applied to gingerbread on a big old Vic in the next. Dumpsters sprang up, followed by a parade of siding, roofing, and tuckpointing company trucks. Many of the older homes – and even a few of the newer ones – started getting facelifts.

Last week, I spied a moving van in the driveway of one of the older, grander, and recently updated homes. I smiled as I saw that things were being carried in, not out. (Extremely heartening in an area where nearly every edition of the local paper has at least two entire pages of foreclosure notices.)

Tonight, as I drove home from the terminal, I passed that same house. A baby toddled through the yard. A young man was watering a freshly planted flowerbed. A woman, presumably his wife, was picking up the tools they’d just used. They looked up as I passed. I smiled and waved. Somewhat quizzically, they smiled and waved back.

Welcome to the neighborhood, folks. You have no idea how glad I am to see you.

Scuffed, Scratched, and Scraped

Amazing how you only notice most of those little dings and dents in passing … until the next morning. I feel all of them today, some I didn’t even know were there last night.

Mother Nature cut me some slack last night and it didn’t (warning for the weather sensitive: I’m about to say the dreaded “R” word) rain. So when I got home, I hurriedly donned some workin’ duds and hit the bricks. I actually made some progress and I have to tell you, it felt good. I was pleased, exhilarated, and dare I say it, happy. Kind of made up for all the progress I didn’t make on Sunday.

Towards the end I got a little overzealous in moving bricks in prep for my next outing. It wasn’t that I couldn’t handle the weight. It was that I couldn’t balance the weight in the rocks once I bent down to lay them on the porch. I nearly went headfirst onto the stack and then the porch.

Instead, I hugged the stack to me in a really awkward embrace and steadied myself just as I prepared to topple. My wrists took the brunt of it and my right knee got just a nick or two.

I didn’t notice just how much of the brunt they took until I got in the shower. Hot water on raw flesh. Hmmm. Probably not a good combo.

Now they’re just scraped up with some crazy jagged lines, like I tried to cut my wrists but didn’t quite succeed. Suicide by brick.

I guess it's possible.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Zippity Doo-Dad, Zippity YAY!

I previously mentioned that I finally unboxed my RotoZip on Saturday and put it to the test. Or, to be more precise, I unboxed my Bosch RotoZip RZ10-2100 Pro Cutoff 5.5 Amp 15,000 to 30,000 RPM Variable Speed Spiral Saw with a ZipMate attachment.

I couldn't remember how much I paid for it, but I had at least opened the package when I bought it last November at There, tucked inside, was my receipt: $79.99. I made out like a bandit!

Cheapest I can find it for now: $99 at (You can get a reconditioned kit for $69.99 at one or two places. There's also a newer model, the 2300, out there to be had for about $100, but I can't speak for it.)

I'll admit, I was skeptical watching the ad for this thing on TV last year. But, watching it cut through bricks, courtesy of the special little attachment arm that allows you to use round blades for cutting mortar and steel, was impressive. Even then, it seemed like just the thing for this porch/sidewalk project. When I found it cheaper online than TV, I jumped. And I'm glad I did.

Granted, I've only used it a few times so far. But each time, this little gadget worked like a charm. I'm sure I won't be able to cut too many more bricks with the masonry wheel that came with it, but that's OK. I think another pair of them is only $5 or $6. I was still skeptical taking it out and putting it together. (Which I should have done the night before. Very easy to do AFTER you read through the instructions and get a lay of the land by figuring out what is what. Or, at least if you're me, you need to do that first!) It's pretty light weight -- just over 3 pounds and the Zipmate adds another pound -- and not hard to handle at all. I was worried that the bricks might jump a little during cutting, but they're heavy enough that they don't. I also thought it might take an hour to cut through the bricks, but a single cut took maybe 5 minutes max.

I'm wondering if while I have it out, I can either use the mortar wheel, or the steel one, or maybe I can just use one of the bits, to cut the posts off of the spindle rails that I removed from around the porch. (These are going to be replaced, but Carole wants to salvage the posts. I don't want to know why. It will involve work.) That will be the subject of my next Internet search: blades for the RotoZippy's special attachment. Another good thing, it comes with its own soft-side carrying bag, big enough to house it, the cutter attachment, the little wrench and bits, extra cutting wheels, and probably a few other accessories you might have a mind to buy. Convenient, huh?

Conclusions: 1) I got a good deal on this. 2) I can see using it for a variety of other jobs, though it will probably pay for itself just on the porch project. Internet research will likely add to the number of things I can potentially use it to do. 3) This product does what it advertises it will. Shocking, I know, but true. I highly recommend it.

Quick updates

Here's a few updates on some previously blogged items.

First, I got the bill for the "additional physician charges" related to the injured midigit. It was $407! (Further convinces me I'm in the wrong line of work. The doctor spent maybe a minute looking at the x-rays and about the same amount of time talking to me.) Network discounts reduced that to $80 which the insurance company paid. My original $50 payment still covers my share.

Second, the crazy man who kept approaching me in my yard … was arrested Friday night. I don't know what the charges were for and I don't care. (Apparently, he had some outstanding warrants in a neighboring county, so he should be locked up for a while. Suffice it to say I should be safe for the next weekend or two.) Always good to know that you're being stalked in your yard by a crazy man wanted by the law.

My poor neighbor. He was so upset about the whole incident. He kept apologizing while he was telling me about the arrest last night. 'He's really not my friend. Really."

And finally, rain later today but maybe not on Wednesday and Thursday. I may actually get something done this week after all! Cross your fingers.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Brick by Brick by Brick

I didn't get a whole lot done over the weekend. In fairness, I still felt like crap on Saturday, but I got up and got moving anyway. I just didn't accomplish as much as I'd have liked.

I did get the front mowed. The back, however, retains it Vietnam qualities. I'll get to it. Where's it going to go?

I'm proud however of how the porch is beginning to look like a porch instead of just a collection of bricks. Several rows are now mortared down and I got the perimeter dug out to close off the borders. It's slooooow going, but I'm pretty pleased with the results so far. You can judge for yourself. It occurs to me that maybe it doesn't look that different from my previous photos, but believe me, it is.

I just need to be a little patient I guess. (Yeah, right. Like that will happen!) One thing I did get to: try out my RotoZip with the special cutting attachment for mortar and steel. But that's another post.

I intended to finishing mowing yesterday and make some more progress on the porch. Mother Nature, however, had other ideas. By 9 a.m. it was pouring down rain, and it did so off and on most of the day. At 5 p.m., the sun come it. (Some days, she's a real b*tch with a bad sense of humor.) But I took it in stride. I got some household things done, spent quality time with Oz, and felt completely decadent after crawling back in bed at NOON for a nap. I could get used to that. I swear I could.

Unfortunately, rain is on the menu as a possible choice for EVERY DAY this week, so who knows if or when I'll get anything else done. More of that patience stuff is required ...

A Place to Keep Your Stuff

George Carlin, the man who gave us the seven words you can never say on television, but now frequently hear quite a few of them, has died.

He could be vulgar and a little on the crass side, particularly in recent years, but I always found something I could relate to. I frequently think about his schtick on driving (everyone going faster than you is a maniac; everyone going slower is a moron) and his disgust with those who don't use turn signals, a pet peeve of mine.

I remember laughing hysterically when I watched him do his "stuff" bit on television. (It's also in his book Brain Droppings from about a decade ago.) We laugh about this regularly at This D*mn House, particularly when we're trying to find somewhere to put something. Here's part of the bit. See if it doesn't sound like your house.

So stuff is important. You gotta take care of your stuff. You gotta have a place for your stuff. Everybody's gotta have a place for their stuff. That's what life is all about, tryin' to find a place for your stuff. If you didn't have so much stuff, you wouldn't need a house.You could just walk around all the time. A house is just a pile of stuff with a cover on it.

… So when you get right down to it, a house is just a place to keep your stuff … while you go out get … more stuff. Because that's what this country is all about. Tryin' to get more stuff. Stuff you don't want, stuff you don't need, stuff that's poorly made, stuff that's overpriced. Even stuff you can't afford! Gotta keep on gettin' more stuff. … So you keep on gettin' more and more stuff and puttin' it in different places. In the closet, in the attic, in the basement, in the garage. And there might even be some stuff you left at your parents' house: baseball cards, comic books, photographs, souvenirs. Actually, your parents threw that stuff out long ago.

So, now you've got a houseful of stuff. And even though you might like your house, you gotta move. You gotta get a bigger house. Why? Too much stuff! And that means you gotta move all your stuff. Or maybe, put some of your stuff in storage. Storage. Imagine that! There's a whole industry based on keepin' an eye on other people's stuff.

Really great stuff. RIP George. Thanks for the laughs.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

And the Power ...Stays On!

9 p.m. 9:15. 9:30. I occasionally glanced at the table, noting the location of the lanterns and flashlights.

I held my breath every 15 minutes, but the power didn't go out tonight. Instead, the only power that seems to be out tonight is that of the birthday boy. He finally crashed.

Ozzie is crashed after an evening of being a wildman with his new squeaky bone. He may be 11, but sometimes he plays more like an 11-month-old than an 11-year-old.

Thought I'd share some shots of the birthday boy with his present, prior to his crash landing.

A Special Day

Without my knowing it, my life changed dramatically 11 years ago today. I didn't know it at the time but that was the day my Ozzie was born.

June 22 was also my grandparents' wedding anniversary. (If they were alive today, they'd mark their 70th anniversary.) June 22 is also the date that Tigger appeared in the yard.

After putting our first Yorkie down, I was adamant against getting another dog. I had never had to make that kind of decision, much less be present for it, and I knew I never wanted to do it again. One way to make sure. Just don't get another dog.

But mom talked me into "looking" at puppies the week after Scruffy's death in September 1997. And that led to Ozzie. When I saw him, he was cute. When I spoke to him, he kissed my face -- and melted my heart. When I saw his birthdate, it was karmic intervention. He immediately became a member of the family.

As I type this, there's a furry little being at my hip. He's content right now, having had a little bit of a breakfast sandwich as a special treat. (He got to go on the trip to get it, and of course, the girls at Burger King fawned over him.) Later on, he'll get a super noisy vinyl toy, beat the crap out of it, and probably break the squeaker. It seems a pretty small price to pay for nearly 11 years of laughs, companionship, and a whole lot of love.

I know I can't keep him forever, but I plan to savor every minute of it that I can. Happy birthday, little guy. Thanks for everything you've given me.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Déjà vu All Over Again

For the second time in as many nights, we’re without power. I was sitting on the sofa catching up on blogs and suddenly, no lights … AGAIN.

It happened a few minutes earlier tonight. Almost 24 hours to the minute. Squirrel vs. transformer, my a##!

Something has to be causing this every night. Luckily, I hadn’t taken the batteries out and reboxed the lanterns or put away the flashlights and candleholders, so we have light.

The Ameren Web site tells me that I am one of 283 customers without power. They don’t know a cause but are expecting to restore service by 11:59 p.m.

I guess we’ll find out. Kind of odd to be posting this in real time. And in the dark!I have to shut down as my laptop battery doesn’t have much time left …

UPDATE: The power was out for 1:40 hours, about 10 minutes longer than yesterday. The cause, according to the Ameren Web site, wire damage. We're bracing ourselves for another outage tonight, around 9 p.m., that will lost 1:50.

And Out Go the Lights!

It’s a little after 9 p.m. and I am on the sofa, typing away, and there’s this loud POP – and the house goes dark. I used the laptop to make my way into my room to retrieve a mini flashlight. Mom was asleep and I left her that way.

I made my way outside to see if it was us – a blown fuse, perhaps – or if it was the neighborhood. It wasn’t just us.

Just a block away is a major intersection. The traffic lights were dark and the passing cars were all engaged in a dangerous game of auto polo. Before I could walk back toward the house, I saw not one, not two, but THREE police cars pull into the bank’s parking lot. Apparently the power outage had rendered its alarm useless.

Toby the Cat was very freaked out. He did not understand why there were no lights in the house and he kept pacing from room to room, yowling. I went downstairs, tiny flashlight in hand. Since the massive storm of 2006, we’ve had enough outages to know it pays to be prepared. To that end, we have two battery-operated Coleman-style lanterns. On the same shelf, is a fully stocked plastic container of batteries, and a plastic bagful of candle holders.

I brought up the lanterns, set them up, lit a few candles, and then went outside to see what was up as I kept hearing what was no doubt Ameren trucks driving by. As soon as I reached the driveway, I saw one at work down the street.

I met up with one of my bus buddies’ husbands. He had just talked to the lineman who said it appeared to be a “ squirrel vs. transformer” incident. The lineman had said midnight to 2 a.m. before power was restored, but we lucked out. The lights flickered back into life by 10:45 p.m.!

Carole is not good during power outages. She says it’s too dark. It’s hot. She needs a TV. She has to go to the refrigerator, constantly. I pray that if the world ends and I’m at home, she’s not with me. She just is not a survivalist.
What was an even bigger and more pleasant surprise, when the power came back on, cable came with it. (This is not always the case.)

So, now my 65-year-old had her TV and could stand with the refrigerator door open if she wants to.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Without A Voice

I woke up this morning with a splitting headache and a throat that felt like a roadgrader had taken a layer off of the inside. Mom hasn't been well lately and she had a bad night last night. That said, I didn't get a lot of sleep last night. So I stayed home. And as the day has worn on, I've slowly been losing my voice. Right now, it's little more than a gravelly whisper. Good thing the blog doesn't require audio.

I've been shoveling in pineapple sherbet since that's the only non-chocolate icecream we seem to have in the house. That has helped some. I'm hoping that after getting a little rest, I'll be ready to take on the many tasks that lie ahead like mowing the yard and getting back to my bricks.

It has been raining or threatening rain on and off all day. I'm hoping that the same will not hold true for tomorrow. The brickwork is slow, granted, but it does have that immediate gratification effect to it as you watch the old porch begin to disappear.

The Mississippi apparently crested today though they had said Sunday earlier in the week. Seven feet about flood stage. Not bad. Things should get better again soon. Feel bad for those in nearby Lincoln and St. Charles County though. They are experiencing Iowa-like flooding. Still sympathizing with those folks.

So here's hoping that I have a dry, productive day to work through and report on tomorrow!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

A Night at the Ballpark

I thought I would go home tonight and maybe do some more brickwork, or mow my lawn which is in desperate need at this point.

Instead, I think I'm going home to take a nap. It was a busy day on top of an early day and late night yesterday. You see, I was quite the slacker. It was our group's turn to use the company suite at Busch Stadium last night. Yes, I know, it was tough but I forced myself to enjoy all the perks of the luxury box: food, drinks, snacks. Everything except dessert which my big boss wouldn't spring for this time. Oh well. And I forgot to mention that the suite overlooks home plate. Boy is THAT tough to take.

It was a beautiful night and fun -- even if the stupid Cardinals managed to lose again to the Royals. You're looking at one of the things that helped wear me down last night during the game, trying to come up with just a few decent game shots, plus I was taking candids of my colleagues most of the evening. I'm still getting my bearings in shooting actions shots with the digital, but I think I'm getting better.

Take Me to the River

At lunchtime yesterday, I walked down to the Archgrounds to see how high the water is. To put it simply, it's pretty damned high and the Mississippi isn't supposed to crest until Sunday!

Had to take a few shots for the record. As you approach the Arch on this gorgeous day and the geyser is visible in the lower left of the Arch, it's hard to imagine that anything could be wrong. But when you get down to the Arch itself … get a boat!

The water has filled the parking lot adjacent to the river, spilled over Leonor K. Sullivan Blvd. (I love the pedestrian crossing sign in the middle of it all), and is working its way up the Arch steps. That said, they've now announced that Fair St. Louis and the summer's Live on the Levee concert series will have to move. (Yeah, or just call it Live in the Levee.)

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Storage Tip: The Purr-fect Container

While I was attempting to progress with the porch bricking last night, I noticed that my neighbor, who was watering his tomato plants, stared at me every time I scooped out some mortar mix to put around my bricks. He finally approached me as I walked back to the shed.

"Are you putting those down with cat litter?" he asked. At first, the question didn't register. Then, I realized that I had transferred my current bag of mortar mix into a 35-lb. cat litter pail. These things are priceless!

They are sturdy. Have a handle. They're stackable and seal shut pretty well. Cleanable. Protective. And best of all, they're FREE! I know a lot of the cat litter manufacturers are scaling back on these, opting instead for cardboard boxes in an attempt to be greener. Tidy Cat is my brand of choice, but I know others also use the plastic pails. After all, one of three Rs of recycling (recycle, reuse, reduce) IS reuse!

I've been using these for a few years now. (With the addition of a second cat in 2006, and one who goes through ridiculous amounts of litter, it's been in my best interest to buy in bulk.) In the storage shed, I keep sand, top soil, and grass seed in them. They are infinitely sturdier than the plastic and paper bags these products come in.

In my basement, I use one to store my circular saw, and another to store a whole bunch of spray paint cans as it not only protects against dampness but also frees up shelf space. My neighbor on the other side has been the beneficiary of some of my spares. He saw me using them last year for sand and started storing yard-related materials in them inside his garage.

You can also use them as a bucket for cleaning. It's so deep, I used one to keep cleaning solution in while I scrubbed the house down before we started painting last year.

So, if you have a cat (s), it's just something to think about the next time you buy litter. Or, if you have friends or family with cats, see if they'll keep some containers for you.

You never know when it may come in handy.

Ties That Bind

I love hanging out and reading some of the contributors. I don't have nearly as much time to do it as I'd like. There are so many. I'm slooooowly updating my blog roll, too, and I'm find tons that I am enjoying, so have patience.

One thing I really love is when some of you write about connections to the original owners of your homes (or in some case the previous owners who only lived there for 40 or 50 years). As much as I b*tch about this place, you can't put that kind of time, money, and effort into something without creating some kind of a bond. By contrast, our house isn't that old really. "Born" circa 1940, it's not quite 70 yet.

Even so, it's comparatively old for my neighborhood. Only one house across the street existed when This D*mn House and the one next door was built. The couples who originally had the two adjacent homes bought the lot dividing the two properties and split ownership so that no one could build between them. (God bless them for that. Good neighbors, but still nice to have a little breathing room. Wish that had happened on the other side as well.)

I had an odd connection to the original owner. One day, a few years after we'd moved in, a lady came and knocked on the door and asked if she could visit -- and if she could bring her parents. They had built the house and she thought they'd love to see the changes. They were in town and visiting relatives and mom agreed to welcome all of them the next day. When I got in from work, our guests were still on-site.

As it turned out, it was the first home of the man who was once the publisher of the local paper and his wife -- the paper where I was, at that time, employed. Talk about coincidence. It was a really nice evening with that family. The original owners seemed pleased with all the updating we'd done, which was nothing then compared to now. I wish I'd thought to ask them if they had some pictures from when they first built it. Of course, I was in my early 20s and could have cared less. I think they have since died but I may try to look up their daughter. You don't know 'til you try, right?

One thing they did for us: They brought the "bill of sale" for the house, itemizing all the materials and the estimated labor and finance charges. It's hilarious. I think the grand total was something like $3,000. I went looking for it as we have it framed and had it on the wall. But then I remembered that the glass got broken so I wasn't sure where it was.

The mother says it's "wrapped up downstairs someplace" awaiting replacement glass. So I'll apologize for no picture. The warehouse that is the family room right now isn't something I'm prepared to brave. I'll share it another time.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Livin' La Vida Lean Cuisine

My dinner invitation from Ann via Twitter notwithstanding, mealtime has been pretty uneventful around This D*mn House. To sum it up, we've been Livin' La Vida Lean Cuisine for several weeks now.

It's due in part to 1) Carole is dieting and 2) When you work full-time at a job to pay the bills and at least part-time on house projects, meal preparation is not high on the priority list. Or at least it's not for me.

While I'm an aspiring "Barb" Vila, Betty Crocker I'm not. And I'm less likely to ever be so on evenings like tonight where my plans are to mix mortar for the porch, not recipe ingredients. (Instead, open freezer. Open package. Open microwave. Push button. Voila! Dinner.)

Since mom is actively changing her "all junk, all the time" lifestyle, how can I not be supportive? It's hilarious to hear her obsessively query calories and fat grams. She asks how many calories one of my favorite LC meals has (Swedish meatballs). When I say 300, she gets this concerned look and says, "Oh, that's bad." I just laugh. (By contrast, an Arby's regular roast beef sandwich has 394 calories and nearly twice as much fat.)

I try hard not to bring home things that she would be tempted by or to eat bad things in front of her that she might want. In fact, I've gone out of my way to identify low-fat or fat-free things she might like, make sure we have a healthy supply of fresh fruits on hand, just lots of thought and prep work. And since she is dieting and still hasn't been feeling well, it's kind of unfair to expect her to cook on a regular basis. So, the Freezer Queen Liveth.

It also means that I, too, have been dieting. That's not an entirely bad thing. I had some severe leg muscle strains last fall while painting the house and that sent me to the doctor. My cholesterol was high for the first time in my life. (Not overly so. I think it was 130-something which is borderline, but high for my age apparently.) And, I weighed as much as I ever have in my life. Freaked me out as I had been working like a dog for six months straight. One would think the scale would be moving downward. Of course, doing all that work led me to have drive-thru dinners 5 or 6 times a week, and snack like mad on less than healthy stuff during breaks. Or just not eat at all one day and gorge the next.

Therein lies the rub, as Bill S. would say.

While Carole occasionally derails, she has lost 13 pounds! I had shed about 8 pounds toward the end of last year, gaining a few back over winter, and I've lost 5-7 more in recent weeks. (Even five pounds -- in either direction -- can make a lot of difference when you're short.) I hope to burn off 10 more between diet and, well, working on the house. Maybe it's not such a bad life after all ...

Viva La Vida Lean Cuisine!

Monday, June 16, 2008

Mail Call!

I may be a newly converted computer geek, but I still love to get mail. Real, physical, take-it-out-of-the-mailbox, mail. Sadly, 95 percent of such correspondence is a bill, a solicitation for a donation, or addressed to "resident" or "occupant."

But Saturday was different. I actually got three pieces of bonafide mail, two of which were NOT in one of the above categories. Because I was zealously beginning the porch project, I barely looked at my mail until Saturday night and I didn't even read most of it until last night. But it was thrilling.

First, there was a birthday card from a family friend. Mom saw it first, noted the return address, and quizzically asked: "Did Chris send you a birthday card?" Ummm, haven't opened it, so I don't know. But yes, it was indeed a birthday card, with a Lowe's gift card to boot. (Does she know me or what?) There's just one problem: It's not my birthday. Well, not yet.

Apparently, Chris got June and July confused this year. But hey, five weeks early is better than five weeks late, right? I'll try not to kid her too much. Maybe this means I get a birthday season. Hmmm. Interesting concept.

Second, I got my copy of YorkieTalk Cooks, the official YT cookbook. I was so surprised by the quality. Much more than I anticipated. A really darling compilation of stuff I may have to try. (And Betty Crocker, I ain't.) Good food, cute Yorkie pictures, and something I had a small hand in helping to produce. (I did some recipe editing.) It will get favored status on ye old bookshelf.

Last, but certainly not least, I got the EOB from the insurance company. So, here it is in black and white, the final analysis of just how much the injured midigit will cost me. I opened the envelope slowly, pulled out the thick stack of paperwork, winced, and then jumped in to see the damage.

As I suspected, there were some pretty hefty "in-network discounts" applied, cutting the $1,800+ total by more than half. A little quick math going on before I continued to assess the page: 20 percent of $900 is $180. OK. Lots better than $475.

But wait. As I pan across the grid for each charge it says I have no charges that weren't covered. Good. I have no deductible. Right. That was the thing I liked best about this plan and why I pay a few bucks more each payday for it. Coinsurance, 0, copayment, $50. OK. The $50 I knew because I paid that at the ER before I left. Then, the bottom line kicker is the summary line.

YOUR TOTAL RESPONSIBILITY TO YOUR PROVIDER: $50. Translation: All I owe is the copay -- which is paid!

My insurance plan is even better than I thought. While I'm happy that I now owe nothing, it still doesn't change my initial thought that our healthcare system needs a lot of fixing.

Just don't send it to the ER.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Can't Escape the Rain

There are actually bricks on the porch. Not many, but I've hit more snags along the way.

First, there are a multitude of uneven ridges along the foundation of the house where someone attempted to seal it. I appreciate that they sealed it, but what a sloppy job! Now I have to do my best to clean up their mess so I can get my bricks down in something resembling a straight line.

Then, getting them to fit in the pattern I was going for ... well, it's close.

And then, I get a few rows down, start mortaring and before I can mix some more up, black clouds appear overhead. Instead of continuing, I get things picked up as quickly as I could. As I pulled the latch on the shed, it started to rain. Perfect timing.

But the rain quite literally put a damper on my brick work. It's almost as if the iPod's selections on my drive to Lowe's last night was an omen. It rained for all of 10 minutes. I decided not to drag everything out. I didn't even get my yard mowed. It looks awful. I'm so embarrassed.

At least I got something done on this project, so I guess I can't complain too much. I guess it will, like everything else, take a lot longer than I thought. But here's a few pics. The first one is yesterday, before I got started. The second is today, right before the rain. The second is also a much better representation of what the color is on the house.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

A Day, Times Two

I ended the day, the way I started it: In a grocery store. Apparently, going to the store with just one eye open early this morning wasn't such a bright idea after all. So I got the joy of doing it again.

I also made not one, but two trips to Lowe's. And, the crazy man from last weekend made a second appearance earlier this evening. I hope it's not getting to stalker proportions. My neighbor said I should call the police if he comes back. (He may or may not be taking his medication. Nice. My psycho magnet is working overtime.)

All that aside, I did get something done. YAY! I started on the porch -- FINALLY! I got the one side of the rail removed, put done some concrete in the wayward corner and patched the holes from removing the rails. I had put a rectangle of bricks on the porch last year using sand and just mortaring the edges. I only meant for it to be temporary anyway, knowing this project was coming.

I pulled all those bricks up today. The sand was wet so I'll sweep it out tomorrow.

I bought concrete mix to put down beneath the bricks. I was told by someone who should know that if you put a light layer down, the bricks on top, the dampen and mortar in between, you should get good results. I trust his skills, so we'll see if it works for me.

I didn't really mind driving back to Lowe's. The last remnants of the sunset were in my rearview. Good tunes playing. (Although, the iPod was making me a little uneasy by playing nearly every song I have on it that has rain in the title. It's not supposed to rain 'til tomorrow night, but I've learned.) The temperature was dropping and a cool breeze was blowing. That made the drive both exhilarating and relaxing. Just what I needed.

Right now, what I need is about 90 minutes with a masseur named Sven. Since that's not likely, I guess I'll have to settle for some Tylenol Arthritis and another hot shower.

Friday, June 13, 2008

The High Cost of Yard Work

The bill for the ER visit from the injured midigit arrived a few days ago. Since I did not list this blog as having adult content when I registered it, I'll spare you the ensuing profanity that was uttered once I opened it.

Essentially, it was almost $800 just to walk in the door. Add to that, almost $600 for X-rays, and another $400+ for I couldn’t tell you. (Maybe the $4 splint and $1 worth of self-sticking wrap they put over it?) And then it says, "This total may not reflect physician charges."

WHAT?! On top of the $1,800 + I have to pay more for the doctor who spent all of 3 minutes with me? What a racket! I feel ultra-stupid for even going. I've set fingers many times over the years but this one was different from the breaks I've had and it scared me.

I still don't know what my portion will be as this was just a "courtesy copy." (Courtesy. Uh-huh. I think maybe they were trying to drum up some more business by causing me to have a heart attack or a stroke after seeing the total.) I do think that there are supposed to be some deductions because of this being an "in-network" facility.

Does this not explain what's wrong with our health care system?

I have insurance but I can't afford to use it at this rate. (I already paid a $50 co-pay and I think I have to pay 20 percent of the total. Without any discounts or extra doctor fees, that's already about $475 more. For nothing. Money meant to do stuff in and on the house.)

I can tell you that unless a bone is hanging askew or there's bleeding that I can't control, or God forbid, something causes me to lose consciousness, I won't be going back. Ever.

The craziest thing is that with all the work I've done with power saws (jig, circular and miter), drills, hammers -- stuff that can really mess you up -- nothing. I get hurt on the lawnmower -- while it's off! I'm grateful, though, because as much as I use all that stuff I sure don't want to be getting hurt. But seriously, what are the odds?

Working on the Weekend

The weekend is here and except for today, the forecast is dry. Or so they say. I've learned not to trust the forecast. But, assuming there's no rain, where do I begin?

I'm thinking I start with the porch. There's one corner against the house where the concrete is collapsed. While caulk and paint were fine for the aesthetics, when it comes to laying brick over it, it needs to be level.

I think Lowe's has concrete on sale, too. If it's going to be dry, I can mix a small batch and get that corner filled and drying. I also need to buy four new posts for the front porch railing. I already have railing and spindles to replace what's out there now.

During our conversation last weekend, Lawrence and I talked about moving the railing off the porch and into the landscaping. (Currently, two posts are and two posts aren't on the porch. The move would put all four out there.)

Sadly, while we had made a decision on the fence, the sale was off by the time we'd discovered it. It was one of those holiday weekend deals instead of a sale from Saturday to Saturday. I know now that Lowe's puts their fliers online, so I'll never miss another one. (Eight panels at a $19 difference in price each comes to $152, or enough of a savings to make me wait it out.) There will always be another sale though. Summer hasn't even officially started yet, despite the soaring temperatures.

And there's always Bedroom 1 to get started on. I have the wallpaper, crown molding, bead board and chair rail just waiting downstairs. Of course, there's at least a day's worth of prep work to be done, too.

So rain or shine, it's going to be a busy weekend.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Where Do I Start?

Clearly, being intimidated by a tiny linen closet shows that I'm feeling a little overwhelmed in the projects department. And I feel so guilty. Just yesterday Ann was hailing me as "a Ninja warrior, but with cute shoes and at Home Depot with a credit card."

But, I've concluded that the linen closet will still be there. I'll come back to it. Breathe. Move on.

KayO was kind enough to share this article from the St. Petersburg Times about decluttering. It's given me a few good ideas and a sense of direction. KayO also shared her own attachment to an aged iron. As for my personal attachment to my now departed water heater, it was the only thing in the history of This D*mn House to be brought in, set up, and work everyday without incident for almost exactly 20 years. Wouldn't it be great if everything worked like that?

Vicki asked if a pair of shoes counts as one or two items in the 100 Thing Challenge. I think the pair is counted as one, but, much like Dave Bruno, I think we can all make rules for ourselves. (I think my pens count as one, even though just at work I have at least 50. Yes, it's an obsession. Deal. I also think each of my respective scrapbooking containers should count collectively as one, but I'll be generous and say four.) I don't think I'll even try to hit 100. I don't think it's possible. But, I do expect to scale back and get organized.

I remember watching an Oprah show sometime back during which the message was if you haven't used it, seen it, worn it or thought about it in at least three years, you don't need it. This article from O Magazine is helpful, too, as it offers some great "baby steps" to take. In fact, this article says it's not good to go at it all at once. Whew!

One suggestion in particular resonates with me: Once you've decided to toss it, and it's not worth donating, dump it in a public trash can. That way, you're not likely to go back and fish it out again!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

DE-Stuff: The Epilogue

I came home, ate dinner, and with much trepidation, opened the linen closet.

I emptied the first shelf. I looked down at the stack of linens that needed to go in. I looked up at the stack of stuff that was already there, even with one open shelf.

And I closed the door and walked away.

Feeling Closed In? DE-Stuff Your Life

You have to move this stuff, to get to that stuff. And you have to move that stuff, in order to get to the stuff that you're really after. Sound familiar?

Welcome to life at This D*mn House. After all, as George Carlin so eloquently puts it, your house is just a place to keep your stuff while you go out and get more stuff.

In fairness to us, this house is incredibly light on closet space. That becomes abundantly clear to me as I prepare to clean out the linen closet. "Closet" is probably too strong a word to describe this limited storage area that is likely smaller than the broom closet most people have in their kitchens. The already cramped space becomes even more limited when my mother starts throwing random things in it. Boxes of duster refills. The new bath mat. Heating pads. All that takes away from space to put in what needs to go there, namely sheets and towels.

Where did we ever get all this stuff?

And that reminds me of something I saw on last week: "How to Live With Just 100 Things." The article was about Dave Bruno, an online entrepreneur, and the "100 Thing Challenge" he created last summer. He has vowed that by the time he turns 37 in November, he will have just 100 personal possessions. Sounds like a lot, doesn't it?

Do some mental inventory. Do physical inventory and I guarantee you'll be stunned by how quickly you hit 100.

He's down to one pen. (To me, that's outright blasphemy, even if it is a really nice pen. Unless I could count my pens collectively as one item, I'd be done already.) And he got rid of his iPod. Huh?! That would be one of the 100 things I'd stand firm on. Take the cell phone. Leave the iPod. But I digress.

I think our problem is a combination of too much stuff and not enough space. I can't do much about the latter. I can't do all that much about the former either, but I'm willing to give it a try. I'm going to start with this linen closet. It's out of control.

Then, as I need to make the switch from winter to summer clothing, I'm going to tackle my closet. I usually end up with a bagful to donate every year anyway. I was very harsh last year, relenting a bit with things that almost fit. This year, I'll be ruthless. At the risk of sounding like the late Johnnie Cochran: "If it doesn't fit, get rid of it."

But first, I've got to start with the Linen Closet From Hell. If you don't hear from me tomorrow, I may need assistance. Please send help.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Happy Buy-Day, This D*mn House!

I don't know the exact date in 1940 it was built, but I do know that it was 22 years ago today that I was busily signing my name to a whole bunch of documents as we closed on the purchase of This D*mn House.

My hair was much longer. My waist was thinner. I was still several weeks shy of being old enough to drink -- legally. And I was juggling a full load of college courses, 35 to 40 hours of work (between three part-time jobs), and a full social life. How did I ever manage all that? Ahhhh, youth.

I didn't even own a car and had to borrow my college roommate's Chevette to meet mom at the bank. As I scrawled my signature across those countless sheets, I could not have known just what I was getting myself into. If I'd seen the endless litany of projects, upheaval, and all around general chaos that lay ahead, I'd have turned that little orange car right back around and gunned toward campus. Instead, the journey of a lifelong DIY-er began.

We spent that whole summer getting ready for the move. I didn't have a whole lot to do with some of the earliest work like interior painting and floor treatments. I did help rip the god-awful shag carpeting out of what is now my room, roll it up and cart it out to the alley. When work wasn't going on there, the old house was being packed up. Now that was fun. My mother's parents had had that home for more than 40 years. And while a major redo of it around 1980 had gotten rid of some of the junk, plenty still remained. (Guess where my packrat gene came from …) But that's a topic for another entry.

This D*mn House was white back then, with black shutters. It had black squared wrought iron railing where the columns are today. I know we had some Polaroids from when we first looked at it. Not sure if there's an exterior shot in there or not. I need to find those. It would be fun to put them up against current photos. In the first five years that we were here, this is just a few things that occurred:

  • The furnace died (1988), but the AC lasted until 1994. (We put in new central air/furnace in 1996.)
  • The hot water heater died. (1988)
  • The garage burned. (1987) A carport with columns that match the front porch was built, all done in 1988.
  • A storage shed was put up on the vacant concrete pad. (1990.)
  • The main water line from the house to the alley had to be replaced (1988). I rented a trencher and my cousin helped me dig across the entire back yard in a cold, fall rain to replace the line. I patched the wall in the basement myself and my cousin, a good union man, told me then that I needed to go get a union job. Maybe I should have listened.
  • The house was painted (by someone else) for the first time. (1989) It was Dutch Boy's Dover Gray. Oddly enough, the color the house is today, after last year's repainting job (done by me), is almost exactly that same shade. This time though we used Behr paint that already has the primer in it, brand spanking new to the market in 2007. When mom and I painted the house in 1996, we used Sears Weather Beater and went an extremely light shade of gray. The paint went on very easy, but didn't last. In a word, that paint sucked. Within a year or two, it was fading fast. (So much so, that people kept saying the house was white. They don't say that now. But of course you can't tell because I need to update the picture. It's from last May -- before the paint job.)
  • I put up white exterior shutters after the first paint job. (1989)
  • I put up wood interior shutters on almost every window in the house as well as along the plywood/laminate, built-in bar in the basement (1988). I ripped the bar out in 1992 or '93 before starting a major overhaul of the downstairs family room.

All this is just some of the work during those first few years … As you can see, it's been an almost constant work in progress. And it doesn't show signs of stopping any time soon.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Props to OPB & the People Who Love Them

For a person that a year ago had all but abandoned her own, it's been other people's blogs -- or the OPB -- that have fed what is now an addiction for me.

Previously, I alluded to finding a "whole new world" of individuals through This D*mn House. Early on, that included Ann at Velvet Lava. Ann has a blogful of mouth-watering goodies. Her posts are littered with eye-popping dessert photos and to-die-for recipes, all part of her love affair with chocolate. She also has an acerbic wit and a sense of humor that parallel my own.

I "met" Ann at YorkieTalk last year. (She has two darling fur babies, one of whom has the best name in dogdom.) I was delighted to find that there was indeed a fellow blogger among my YT pals. I am not a cook or baker by any stretch of the imagination, but I love to eat, so I am always awestruck by Ann's concoctions -- when I'm not wallowing in the cuteness of Wylie and Marcel Verdel Purcell, whom I still maintain has the best name in dogdom.

I stumbled upon Vicki at Not So SAHM very recently and quite by accident. I found her, by all things, through a search I did on self-propelled lawnmowers, having recently "inherited" one of my own. I laughed at her account of mowing the lawn. I laughed even harder when I read one of the comments left by one of her regulars: I’ve mowed the lawn twice in the 9 years I’ve been married ... Ours had that self-propel thing on it, too… it self-propelled me right into the side of a car the first time I used it. (Boy, could I relate to that! My first experience nearly took my shoulder of out its socket while simultaneously hurling me down the driveway.) While I neither stay at home or am a mom, I'm vicariously enjoying the wholesome adventures of Vicki and her two young daughters, particularly the vivacious toddler that is Ashlyn. You just never know what is going to happen next! I also like to peek in on whatever Vicki is creating for her online business SewPetit. I marvel at her talents because I struggle with simple buttons and hems.

Very, very recently, I got my first issue of This Old House magazine and discovered That has brought me into contact with hundreds of other perpetual home renovators (read: crazy DIYers).Talk about some beautiful places. And some of the jobs people are doing put me to shame. I am so glad that some of them have found me, too. (I don't know who most of you are, just that you're coming from HouseBlogs.) But some folks have left me comments like Jennifer at Tiny Old House, C&C at Adventures on Willow, and Mike at Rural Renovators, so I'll try to keep up with their progress, too. There are a lot of others I'm following, so I'll be updating Sites I Like real soon.

The person to whom primary blogging credit/blame goes to though is my colleague, KayO. I've been reading her blog for years, a great source of inspiration when I started. I love reading about her travels, taking in her varied performance and book reviews, and just soaking up some of the ever eclectic Kayness. Hey, how many people do you know that can successfully combine Pan, Buddha, Krusty the Klown, and Jerry Garcia in their office, much less in a single blog post? I'm proud to say I know one.

But for all the OPBs, they'd be mere soliloquoys without the PWLT or People Who Love Them. Monkeygirl and CD, two regular commenters of mine, and two of the "Excellent Eight," my circle of high school friends, are very loyal followers. You couldn't ask for a better or more supportive audience. Love ya, ladies!

My friends have come to regard our individual friends outside the immediate circle as "bonus friends." That aptly describes how I feel about some of the OPB readers. Because some of the OPBs like KayO and Ann and Vicki have been so good to me, their peeps are visiting, too. Many of those visitors are bloggers as well.

And so the circle expands ...

A Moment of Gratitude

You see a lot of complaints in this blog. In all likelihood, you'll see a whole lot more in the future. I try to temper these though with the many wonderful things that happen.

Unfortunately, the good stuff tends to get shortchanged because the negatives usually arrive in herds.( I think I can speak for the houseblogging brethren in particular when I say that. It seems the harder you try to change, repair, or complete something in your house, the more roadblocks pop up.) I think it's all a part of the package that comes with owning a home.

DIY is tough. And many of you know all too well that those jobs you don't do yourself can also be riddled with pitfalls, usually embodied within those hired to do the job.

But even saying that, I'm grateful for all that I have and all that we've been able to achieve.

There's an incredible sense of accomplishment to being able to point to any aspect of a room in your home or on its exterior and say, "I did that." I'm proud to say -- and grateful to be able to say it -- that I own my home. There are many people who never will. Some people who once did are losing theirs as we speak.

I'm grateful for the people who have patiently shown me how to do something, or else guided me through a needed correction when I did it wrong on my own the first time.

I'm grateful for those workmen who have been hired that have done the job correctly, in a timely way, and at a fair price.

I'm grateful that some of the worst of tasks have almost always not been as bad as they seemed, many of them coming with a silver lining.

I'm grateful for neighbors who have been kind enough to loan me tools, donate spare materials, encourage me, and occasionally mow my lawn when I've been in a project up to my eyeballs.

And finally, I'm grateful for this blog. It's given me room to rant and a way to stay sane. It has also introduced me to a whole new world of individuals (whether they be housebloggers or not), people I wouldn't otherwise "know" -- and what a loss that would be.

It's given me a portal through which to peer into their worlds. It has given me a cool new way to communicate with all these wonderful new people, as well as with that grand ole gang I've known for a lifetime. Collectively, you are a source of comic relief, valuable information, and much appreciated support.

So, thanks for sharing your worlds with me and for stopping by to visit and share mine.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Wackos, Weather, & Wasted Effort

It was a goofy afternoon to say the least.

With the mercury hovering at 94, I got the yard mowed. I was having some issues with the hose (still don't know why the water pressure is so weak) when I saw someone pull up at the neighbors' house. They were still gone on their long weekend jaunt but I was minding my own business and didn't say anything.

I look up to see a man with a clipboard staring at me. He says he's friends with the neighbors and that he was getting signatures in his bid for the presidency. "That's nice," says I. "Good luck." I told him that I'd sign his petition but I thought I'd be wasting my time. At this point, I was boiling hot, exhausted, soaking wet, aching, and hungry. I was not to be trifled with. But I was polite.

Then, this clown starts telling me his life's story ... and hitting on me. Yeah. I was filthy, with my hair pasted to my head with a combination of sweat and dirt. The dog has never smelled this bad (except for maybe the time many moons ago when he rolled in poop.) He came close to guessing my age, and said he was 63. I didn't have the heart to tell him that he was just a few years younger than my parents. But then he gave me an out. And I was getting very cranky.

"That tree needs to come down," he observed. I wanted to tell him he had a gift for the obvious but instead said, "Try convincing my mother of that." (The battered pine has never been right since the hellatious storm of nearly two years ago. She has been close to giving in on it, but always backs out at the last minute.)

"Your mother lives here, too?" Oh yes, I tell him. And she's sixty-five. Luckily, he got less chatty after that and finally left. Later, my neighbors returned from their trip and when they came to get their mail I related the tale of the presidency petition. My neighbor looked at me dubiously. "You're kidding, right?" I assured him I was not. "He's crazy, you know."

Yeah. Tell me about it.

I decided to get cleaned up before taking the clippings to the dump. (A leisurely shower courtesy of the new water heater.) I loaded four bags up and drove off. When I got there, I found the fence closed up. It was 5:30 p.m. and the sign said the hours were noon to 6. I've wasted time, effort, and gas in 90-degree heat. Now I have to take them home and unload them. Nice.

I stop to pick up my allergy drugs at Walgreens on the way back. The pharmacy tech pushes a single script across the counter. There should be two. "We have to call the doctor on this one. It's no longer available so he'll have to prescribe something else."

Great. After a variety of experiments, I finally get a winning combo -- and they have to change it. Lucky me.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Out With the Old

The old water heater that is.
I met Lawrence the Handyman at The Home Depot this afternoon and got the new water heater. I thought he would meet me near the front of the store. Ten minutes after our appointed time and I still didn't see him. That's not like Lawrence at all. So I called his cell. I should have known: He was retrieving a cart to put the water heater on. God love him.

It was very hot, (about 90 degrees and the heat index was near 100) but dry. For that, I was incredibly grateful.

While replacing a water heater isn't hard, it is a physically demanding job. Even using a dolly (with which we managed to dent the new water heater), getting one water heater up and another down the stairs of death was challenging at best. Our basement stairs are narrow, steep, and have a curve toward the bottom that make carrying a heavy load nearly impossible without either losing the load or your balance.
But Lawrence is a trooper. I have no idea how he does it. While he is nearly 30 years my senior, and a slight man at that, he'll probably sail out of bed tomorrow. Me, I'm achin' and breakin' as I type this and I've already had a dose of Tylenol Arthritis. Getting old is a real bitch.

I relished that shower earlier, savoring every second. I had been babying the water heater the last few days, trying to keep it from going completely out and sending Tigger scurrying for scuba gear. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. Get out! Not tonight, buddy. Enjoy. Enjoy. Enjoy.

Thanks to Lawrence's truck, I also bought 250 more bricks -- bringing the total to 570, almost enough to do the porch and walkway. I also bought a sledge hammer and a pick for the sidewalk demolition. (I'm trying hard not to think about how much money I spent today while I convince myself it will all be worth every cent.) We jammed 200 into his truck -- along with the water heater-- and 50 more into the 'Bird's trunk.

Lawrence and I walked around once the water heater was in, discussing a variety of future projects. One last task before he left was to roll the old water heater out to the alley. I felt a little guilty leaving it there. It had served us so well. Twenty years.

"Will they pick that up?" Lawrence queried. I wasn't sure to which "they" he referred but I knew that water heater would be gone by tomorrow. Who I call "the junk guys" cruise the alley at least a half-dozen times each weekend, trying to see ahead of trash day if anything of value to them has been discarded. I assured him that the water heater would not stay there.

Even I was surprised when, barely an hour later, I went out to move the car to unload the bricks and saw that the water heater was gone. That was much faster than I could have imagined.
Farewell, old friend. Farewell. Here's hoping that your replacement performs half as long.

After the Storm (s)

Things began to die down last night as sunset approached. In fact, the sun started peeking through as one of the last heavy showers fell. Me being me, I began searching madly for the rainbow.

I found it.

And then I found the sun shining through my neighbor's rain gauge and thought that was an interesting shot. Looks like we got in excess of 2.5 inches of rain. And we're in for more. In fact, we've already had at least one round this morning, The doppler, though, doesn't show anything else immediate but says there's a 30 percent chance, and that we're possibly in for a thunderstorm.

I hope the chance stays low as I am going to meet Lawrence later to get that new water heater! After some comments on the blog, discussions with some folks at work, and wisdom from Lawrence, I've decided to go with the GE at Home Depot. Lawrence has something going on this morning so I'm going to meet him at the store later. Going a little earlier to get some things I need for other projects.

I spent about two hours last night moving all the gear that has currently taken up residence in the family room (all for future This D*mn House projects) so that we have a clear path in and out of the basement for the great water heater exchange. While that takes a lot off my mind, it puts it a lot on my plate. So, going to grab some breakfast and get the day under way. Yee-hah!

Friday, June 6, 2008

Did I Buy Lakefront Property?

No. I did not. But you'd think I did ...

Here's my lakefront roadway courtesy of the first of three storm fronts. Driving rain. High winds. Some hail, but not here. They said a tornado touched down about 10 miles away but now they're saying it was much farther. Hope all is well there.

Soon, the roadway will be littered with cars that, after making itthrough a series of flooded roads, couldn't make it through one more ...

Impromptu Vacation Day

An ailing mother, wailing cat, and SOMETHING that is banging either at the roofline or on the back of the house, robbed me of all but about three hours of sleep last night. The first two have also kept me up the previous nights, too, meaning a total of roughly 10 hours of sleep since Tuesday. So, I am seriously sleep-deprived.

That prompted me to opt for an impromptu vacation day. Other than a mid-morning call, I don't really have that much going on so, while more notice is usually required, I think it will be OK. Hope so anyway. Last thing I need is another issue right now. :-)

I'm going to grab a nap, get my call in, and then, with any luck, either get the water heater resolved or, at the very least, get the logistics in play to get it done. Who knows? If my nap is refreshing enough, I may even get started on something else.

Cross your fingers!

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Plans, Changing Plans, and Taxes

There's been a change of plans on the new vinyl fence. I guess it was fate that we had the meltdown with Lowe's previously. Carole now wants a standard six-foot dog-ear. It's on sale for less than half the price of the fence that we had originally talked about.

Works for me. Just as long as we get the vinyl. The wood fence is shot. I need to remember to grab a few before shots before I kick it down. So here's my list for the next few weeks:
  1. Replace water heater.
  2. Order fence.
  3. Complete brick-a-bracking. (Also known as brick-hoarding.)
  4. Get tools for sidewalk demolition.
  5. Tear down fence.
  6. Demolish sidewalk.
  7. Start bricking porch.

And that's just the beginning. I'll have to reassess in a few more weeks and update the list. Care to guess how I'll be spending my vacation? I'll probably take a day or two later this month and also tack a few days onto the Fourth of July.

Oh, and the tax bill came. More than a 10 percent jump from last year! Sheesh. So much for owning the house. I guess you never really do.

Ring! Ring! Ring!

The phone's back on! The phone's back on! No more jonesing for the Internet.

My cell phone jarred me out of a catatonic writing state this afternoon (Catatonic in that I was staring at the same single sentence.) It was the phone technician on his way to the house. He already sounded like he knew what was wrong. Very encouraging.

About an hour later, my mom called me. She hadn't even heard the guy. Didn't even know he had been there -- except that the phone was working. He did eventually call her. About four poles down, a coupling had come undone and exposed a bunch of wires to all the wind and rain.

Apparently, one of the good gusts yesterday afternoon took us offline. Just us. Nobody else had called them with a problem.

Why am I not surprised?

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

And How Was Your Day?

I was rudely awakened shortly after 3 a.m. by thunder that shook the house, and subsequently, by a terrified Yorkie desperate for comforting. (Ozzie hates storms.) By the time the thunder, lightning, and pouring rain had died down and I was lulled back to sleep with a Yorkie in the crook of my arm, the alarm was going off … I made it through my morning routine, and a few other tasks since mom isn't feeling well, rather sluggishly.
The bus was late and for a minute or two I thought perhaps with my sluggish pace I'd missed it. But there it came, finally. The Nano eased me into a catnap, and awoke just two stops ahead of mine. Once at the office, my friend KayO started me out with a laugh. Building on the six-word memoir from earlier this week, she shared this to summarize her morning: Barefoot, I stepped in cat puke. OK, my day didn't start that badly.
We had a rare power outage at the office today. (In more than seven years, I can think of only 3-4 such events, and only one that lasted long enough to send people home.)

What was freaky was that I was in the restroom when the lights went out. I had just entered a stall and was about to "undress" when it went black. One of my young colleagues was a few stalls away. Since she was already engaged shall we say, I said I would venture out and see if I could flip the lights back on. I had assumed that the plunge into darkness was because of a faulty light switch that has been acting up in the ladies' room on our floor for a while now. I made it to the door only to find that it was NOT the switch at all. I remembered that in one of my desk drawers, I had tossed one of those tiny pressure lights that used to be on my keyring. I went and got it and returned to the restroom. Many folks were grateful for that tiny light. You really couldn't see anything otherwise!

As I a window, I can stay in my office with no problem. The phones worked, but the computers were dead. I undocked my laptop and tried to tap our wireless connection in the building and had it -- for about a second. Then it went down, too. Most people were congregating in the middle areas where some back-up lights had come on. Even so, it was still pretty dark. After about an hour, the lights came back. The computers did not. Made it very hard to get anything done. Also, made it plain just how super-dependent we are on technology. Within another hour, the computers were running once again.

The timing was good because I got a call from a colleague in New York within two minutes of the system's resurrection. I would not have been able to help her without my computer! The phone rang while I was on that call, flashing a number I didn't recognize, but an area code I did: mine.
When I hung up with New York, I had a message. My mother called to tell me we have no phone at home. She was on the phone with our neighbor and it just went dead. (She used their phone to call me.) It does this from time to time. (The problem was supposedly resolved a year ago, after intermittent outages and in spite of the efforts of a parade of technicians in previous years.)

It may account for why she hadn't heard anything yet from either Lawrence the Handyman or Carl the HVAC guy about the running-on-borrowed-time water heater. (Someone suggested we ask our heating/cooling guy about water heaters, so that call was on mom's to-do list for today.)
I'm starting to hear the theme song from Gilligan's Island in my head about having no phones, no lights, etc. It will be interesting to see if anything else can befall us before I get home.

I'm not sure I want to find out.