Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Some Honest Scraps

Karen over at Mom, Me and Alzheimer’s was kind enough to tap me with “The Honest Scrap” award. It’s always nice to get some recognition. Thank you! I wasn’t familiar with this, but after doing a bit of digging online, I’m grinning.

One entry I found says: “This award is about bloggers who post from their heart, who oftentimes put their heart on display as they write from the depths of their soul.” I have to think that doesn’t often apply to my house-related entries, but I’ve been known to go off the reservation where topics are concerned and there’s several I’m passionate about, so I take that as a sincere compliment.

There are two parts to this. First, I’m supposed to tell you 10 “honest” things about me. Then, I’m supposed to invite at least seven blogging buddies to do the same. (I won’t put anyone on the spot to do this, but if you’d like to contribute and blame me for it, I’ll gladly read and comment on your 10!) Hardest part is trying to think of some things that I haven’t said 100 times already! Here goes nothing:

1. I’m short – and hate it. (I never would want to be "freakishly tall" as my friend KayO says the other end of the spectrum is, but 5'4 would have been nice!)
2. As much as I appreciate technology (just try to take my iPod or digital camera away -- I dare ya), I view cell phones as a necessary evil and still resent owning one.
3. I think I was a pack mule in a previous life: I hate making multiple trips to the car when carrying things inside and try to drag as much in at once as possible.
4. One of my favorite surprises is getting a written letter or a random greeting card (one not tied to a birthday or other occasion) in the mail.
5. I’m a HUGE history buff. Genealogy, historic buildings, antiques – love it all.
6. I loathe “rude” in all forms. Can’t people just be friendly and use manners? It’s not hard. Really.
7. I don’t think that life is fair but I’m learning that it can be exactly what you make of it.
8. Sinus and allergy issues have taught me that breathing is highly underrated.
9. I try to learn something new every day – personal growth (waist and hips not withstanding) matters.
10. I used to think I wanted to completely restore an old home. (Wait – I’m already doing that – though This D*mn House is a far cry from the kind of “old home” I had in mind.)

Competition … or Robbery?

During yesterday’s adventures in concrete, it became apparent before we’d even gotten to the halfway mark that nine bags of concrete wouldn’t be sufficient to finish the job. Initially, we guessed three more.

As work progressed, we agreed on five and I almost prophetically said six before Lawrence held up five fingers when I asked, “How many more?”

I’d bought all of the previous bags of the Quikrete Fast Setting Concrete Mix we’d been using at Home Depot. I paid $4.37 a bag. Not wanting to make a 20-mile roundtrip, I thought I’d run up to our local Ace Hardware. (While there’s a Lowe’s being built locally, I don’t think it’s open yet.)
They had only five bags on the shelf. The stockboy was glad to go and find more for me. This meant I didn’t have to try another hardware store in town.

Imagine my surprise then when I saw that the concrete was $7.49! I’d anticipated $1 or even $2 more than the $4.37 I’d paid, but more than $3 more per bag? This isn’t competition. It’s robbery!

I guess I shouldn’t complain. Lowe’s wants $1 more per bag and, online, Ace is advertising this very same product for more than $10 a bag – almost $3 more than their in-store price and more than twice the Home Depot price. How nuts is that?

Have you ever seen such a dramatic price variation between chain hardware stores? (I’m not talking the local mom and pops. I’d have expected that there, too.) I like to shop locally not only for the convenience but also to support our local businesses. I briefly rethought that yesterday.

I think they’re going to have to learn to compete much better and fast. That Lowe’s opening is just around the corner – and it’s little more than a mile away.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

My New (And Improved) Driveway

It’s only through the miracle of caffeine that I am still in motion.

I was up for 21 hours (5:30 a.m. Monday until 2:30 a.m. today) and then back up at 5:45 this morning. I was doing some stuff for work as a trade-off for taking vacation today. Vacation only in the sense that I wasn’t physically in the office.

Before 9 a.m. I was outside moving things out of the driveway and getting things ready for a workday with Lawrence. Today’s job: Align and secure the second of the columns in the carport and shore up the edge of the driveway by pouring concrete in the area adjacent to the existing edge, currently occupied by landscape timbers.

This time, instead of raising the column between 6 and 8 inches like we did on Saturday, we brought it up less than inch. We did, however, still have to dig for several inches to hit bottom and burrow beneath to put in a concrete footing. Even that job was easier.
Instead of hollowing out and removing 15 gallons of debris, we had to take out less than half that. Still, digging in an area little more than a square foot with a hand trowel is tedious and painstaking. Once the concrete was in place, and while it set up, we moved to the driveway edge. We began digging out weeds, rock and other debris.

While Lawrence mixed and poured, I continued the weeding and debris removal. I would then throw in a light layer of rock on the area he was working in and he’d cover it with concrete. We started out with an edge that look like this. Look closely at this photo from Saturday and you can see the jagged edges of the driveway and how they periodically drop off into nothingness.

The previous owner’s solution was to “square off” the driveway with railroad ties. These were already rotted by the time we moved in and the mother has replaced them with these landscape timbers.

I have to pick them all up to properly mow or to weed eat and they turn the pit they fill into a leaf magnet this time of year. Total pain in the ass.

Well, that era ended today.

Fifteen bags of fast-setting concrete later, the driveway is now even with the yard. Due to the gritty quality of the concrete, it already seems to mimic the consistency of the asphalt. I need to wait a while, but eventually I’ll throw some driveway seal on it and voila, instant extended driveway!

We were also able to stuff rock and concrete under some of those nasty crevices, shoring up the edge. No more fighting to fill them every time I seal! I sure wish I could get back some of the hours of my life I dedicated to doing that.

Depending on how well this solution works, I’m already thinking that I may pull up the cinder blocks (you can see them farther down the driveway) and replace them the same way I did those landscape timbers.

But that's an "if" and a "someday" scenario. Right now, I need to finish some stuff for work and put my sorry self to bed.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Tonight's Agenda

Is there such a thing as actually living in a house? Seems all I’ve been doing lately is living for one.

Tonight is another trip to The Home Depot to buy still more cement. I’ll probably sneak in a household “living” supply run while I’m at it, so Ladybird should be good and stuffed on the ride home. Regardless of what I do or where I go tonight, one thing’s for sure: I’ll be wearing a jacket. Or at least a sweatshirt. I think our high was 67 degrees and as it’s now dark shortly after 7, it will be quite a bit cooler by the time I take my trip.

I envy those of you who still have our “highs” as your “lows.” This whole autumn thing just is not appealing to me at all. Here’s hoping winter will be a late arrival – and mild when it does show up.

And Autumn Arrives

I stood on the corner and waved goodbye to summer as the autumn wind blew through my hair and swirled leaves at my feet. It didn’t see me though. It was already well on its way out of town.

After extended summer weather (days with highs near or above 80) mostly filled with rain, we managed to get one more good day yesterday. And then, it was gone. I can’t tell you how glad that, in spite of the rain, we managed to get as far on the carport as we did Saturday. It would be ideal if tomorrow could be just a few degrees warmer than what they’re predicting.

This morning, as the sun begin its crawl up the sky, there’s a chill in the air that I’ve not felt in months. (Nor have I missed it.) It’s in the mid-50s and the wind is gusting up to 35 mph. Brrrr. It’s not expected to get above 70 today and tonight … lows in the 40s. Ouch. My fear of an early frost may not be unfounded after all.

It’s going to be a long winter.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Check!

I'm still sore from yesterday but managed to eke out a full roster today anyway.

*Wash Pearl. Check.
*Mow lawn. Check.
*Put lemon oil on tools used yesterday and put away. Organize other items in shed. Check.
*Remove remaining concrete from Ladybird's trunk and stow in shed. Check.
*Load clippings and take to dump. Check.

Pearl had an admirer at the car wash today. I was drying her off when over my shoulder I hear: "That's a good looking Cadillac."

This started a brief conversation with Steve. Favorite line from this discussion: "Did your husband buy that for you?" Second favorite line: "What size engine -- or do you know?" (No, I just plunked down a sizeable chunk of change on a vehicle and have no clue about its engine power.) He got bonus points for smooth delivery on my favorite line. The second favorite, not so much.

Way to go, dude. He wasn't as cute as Home Depot guy anyway.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Raisin' the Roof

When you own a home, you often find yourself doing things where, afterward, you’re breathing a sigh of relief because it didn’t burn down. Or blow up. Or collapse on top of you.

That last scenario really applied today. It turns out that it was something of a miracle that the carport has stood for more than two decades without toppling.

I know I’ve said before that Lawrence is relatively unflappable. He takes everything in stride. Most of the time, he doesn’t even react to what he sees before him. Not so today. His face said a lot. I instantly knew we had trouble. “Well, this is not good,” quoth Lawrence. “It’s definitely not good.” Those aren’t words you hear from Lawrence, especially when they accompany a look that drives home that point 10 times over.

Turns out that the idiots who built the carport not only didn’t bother to put in a post or any kind of fill in the columns, THEY DIDN’T PUT ANYTHING UNDERNEATH them either. As a result, the columns have gradually just started sinking into the ground.

Did I mention that these are load-bearing supports, as in they’re holding up the entire roof structure of the carport? It’s no wonder then that the carport has been sloooooooowly sinking into the driveway. We’re just d*mn lucky it has been at such a slow rate and didn’t just fall down! I’m still marveling that the storms of 2006 didn’t bring it down!

After today though that is a moot point. While we were regularly challenged by brief downpours, we managed to get the worst of the job over with. Unfortunately, we didn’t finish. Because of weather – and because after Wednesday I won’t get Lawrence back again until sometime in November – this means I’m going to have to take a day off work to wrap this up. I can’t risk having snow on the ground for this kind of a job!

While the driveway slopes, note how severely the roofline sags. This is as we were getting started today.

That’s Lawrence shoring up our temporary supports. While it wasn’t the safest arrangement and I admit I was a little nervous about it, believe it or not this silly rigged get-up was 100 times better than how that end of the carport had been being held in place!


Take a look at the roofline now. It’s looking better already after we’d managed to remove 15 gallons of dirt, rock and asphalt from the hole where the column sat. The first 10 using only hand shovels!

Here’s the column back in place – with a concrete slab and 3 bags of concrete mix to hold it in place. While the rain was a nuisance it did help us out on this one little thing: it filled the hole allowing us to mix the concrete without dragging the hose over!
On Tuesday, we’ll need to tackle the second column and the driveway edge. That column shouldn’t be nearly as bad as we’ve already stopped the sag. We just need to shore it up now with some concrete to ensure that it doesn’t continue to sink.

Pearl's House

It's threatening rain. I hope that "threaten" is as far as it gets. (The Weather Channel says a 50 percent chance of rain. So, maybe. Maybe not.)

Lawrence will be here soon. The plan is to work on Pearl's portion of This D*mn House: the carport. To help make that happen, there is currently 350 pounds of concrete in Ladybird's trunk!

I visited Home Depot last night to get the concrete and met a cute guy shopping in the mortar aisle who couldn't help himself but ask the obvious after spying seven bags of concrete on my flat cart. "Pouring concrete?"

I couldn't help myself but reply with a smartass answer: as I generally do when asked the obvious. "Actually, I've got a list of people who I'm not too happy with right now. I thought I might make them some shoes." He didn't immediately get the joke. *Sigh* I am so misunderstood.

So I grinned and gave in. "Yes. Pouring concrete."

"Doing it yourself?"

"Sort of. I have help."

"You know how to pour concrete?" OK. Here it comes. I started to pull my cart away.

"I know enough about it. I do a little bit of everything except electricity."

"Really? I do electricity. So what are you doing?"

I briefly explained today's plans. He in turn explained a bad situation with a gas line. I explained that I had already had the joy of installing a gas line (when we converted the fireplace last year)wished him luck and headed for the check-out. He was behind me in line.

"If you can wait a minute I can help you with that," he says, jerking a thumb at my sizeable load.
I politely thanked him for the offer but said I could handle it. (Had it not been for the wedding band, I may have loaded the car much more slowly.) By the time he emerged, I was pushing the cart back to the door.

I should have told Mr. Mortar I have way more than help. I wish you could see the dopplar radar right now and the way the rain is doing this weird shift. It was raining at the airport a little while ago, with rain headed right at us. But now? The sun is shining through the clouds,

Lawrence really DOES have the number to the weather hotline.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Dear Ndugu

Dear Ndugu,
Today is Friday and I'm awfully glad it is. Since you're only 6, you probably can't appreciate the importance of Friday since you don't have a job. Or do you? I know that some cultures start children working at a very early age. I feel like I have been working forever. Sometimes, some of the snot-nosed kids I work with make it very hard not to want to slap them, but you don't need to hear about that.

Sometimes, I swear this blog must read like one continuous Warren Schmidt “Dear Ndugu” rant, so I’m always both humbled and amazed that you come here. Some of you even come back!

It’s always fun for me to see just how or what gets some of you here. Every once in a while I like to share that with you as I think some of the searches (Google and Yahoo!) are hilarious.

For the vast majority, it’s a split between Houseblogs.net and just coming directly to the site.

The other huge draw is product reviews. I continue to get hits EVERY DAY from my take on the Twin Draft Guard, Arrow rivet tool, and Kobalt Utility knives. That tells me that I need to do a few new reviews! Oh – and that “pimped shed” of mine remains popular, too. Coming up in the charts are searches for grout (both black and white) and hex tiles. Chris Botti is getting me some hits, too.

But here are some odd ones and the posts they landed on:
forced to work for habitat for humanity by my employer?
"carole weed" (I never DID figure out where this took them to)
removing stairs in middle of house
Charles Bronson’s mother (yes, we even have an entry for that at This D*mn House)

Regardless of how you get here, I’m glad you do. While I blog for me, you sure make it a whole lot more fun!

My Two Cents

I’m going to qualify this entry by saying right off that as a general rule I like JC Penney. We have managed to buy quite a bit from them over the years, most of it household and decorative items.

Almost always we’ve been happy with what we’ve gotten. Since we do get things there with some regularity, we are ALWAYS getting mini-catalogs from them, emails offering free shipping (followed up with postcards doing the same), and sometimes even phone surveys.

So, when the latest little sales flyer came and the mother found something she wanted – quickly producing a free shipping postcard that had arrived a day later – I thought nothing of it. The free shipping, however, was on an order of $75 or more. The mother thought it was $50. (Her item of choice was $49.99.)

“Well, I could get a new rug for the kitchen,” she says. OK. Whatever. I place the order online. Before I can finish, I get one of those nasty little red notes.

Your order amount does not qualify for free shipping. Huh? I stare at the screen. My order total: $74.98.

Two cents under. Seriously? You’re going to withhold a discount over TWO CENTS? Most places give you leeway when you get within a coin or two. Apparently, JC Penney is not one of them. Angered by their pettiness, I canceled the order.

But, this was the mother’s order. And she decided she wanted the rug. So she got the next size at $10 more. “Sucker,” I told her, glad that it wasn’t me paying for it. Because if it had been, they’d just have been out of a sale.

And that's my two cents.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Workin' It

There have been some interesting developments on the work front. Some good. Some not.

I was talking to one of my colleagues about these developments today when she said that another colleague, whose last day was today, was incredibly happy about it. I guess I must be quite lucky in that most days at least, I really do love my job enough that I'd have a hard time imagining being happy about leaving it. (Hitting the Powerball jackpot notwithstanding.)

But I do know what the giddiness of leaving a job you hate is like. That’s the situation I left at my last job.

To this day, the day that I was able to give my last managing editor (Mr. Memo) my two-week notice, is among my happiest. It felt so unbelievably good to 1) Be able to leave an ugly situation 2) Land a “real” job and 3) Watch the blood slowly drain from Mr. Memo’s face as he read the faux cover memo to my resignation letter. Yes, I have a wicked sense of humor especially toward those who deserve it at its most acerbic.

This was a man who, instead of having a conversation with you, would casually slide a memo across your desk while you were sitting behind it. And he wrote memos for d*mn near everything. It was insane. Hence, I called him Mr. Memo.

The faux memo from me had the words I QUIT and a personal note to him. In that memo I thanked him for getting me angry enough to not only utter those words but to do something to make it possible. Seeing just how big I could put the words I QUIT on a single line was one of many ways I found to console myself after issuing a self-imposed 90-day deadline in which to find another job. (In case you’re curious, bolded Arial in 158-point type leaves both words on a single line in portrait mode.) I was able to give a two-week notice with 12 of the 90 days remaining. Luck, divine intervention, and a former boss were working in my favor.

I later found out that, just an hour before, one of my reporters had also given notice so he was having a really bad day. Awww. Poor thing. *sarcasm* Call it petty, but I couldn’t help myself. It made my departure that much sweeter.

Because it felt so good, I mused that Six Flags needed to create an “I Quit (EMPLOYER’S NAME)” ride so that you could do it again and again and again … and even take others along with you.

I guess that must be how D felt today. Godspeed.

Beseeching the Rain

Rain, rain go away.
Do NOT fall on Saturday.

My sagging carport needs a lift.
Dry weather would be such a gift!

It really REALLY would be best
If you would head out of the Midwest.

Now stop being such a beast
And quit picking on the poor southeast!

Go and hit the southwest folk.
The desert could always use a soak.

You can surely come back later on
After, of course, I’ve mowed my lawn.

I’ll be generous and give you today
And even tomorrow – then be on your way.

Please go and plague some other sky
And leave my driveway warm – and dry.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Fall=Contest Season?

Maybe fall brings out the competitive spirit in DIYers.

I’ve gotten two invitations in as many days to enter DIY contests. And, I’m waiting for One Project Closer’s just-ended Before and After ’09 competition to move to the next level. (I’ll be a contender in the latter. And, I’ll be asking for your vote.)

I guess I’ll also be a contender in the other two as well. The first invite came yesterday from OldHouseWeb.com (not to be confused with This Old House’s Web site which, I admittedly did at first). They’re giving away a $250 Lowe’s card and the chance to be a paid contributor on their site. What dedicated DIYer could pass that up? Not me! They’re looking for the best blog via a single project entry. You can get other details on the competition here.

The second invitation came today from Repair-Home.com. You can enter a project (or several if you want) in 17 different categories. A $100 prize will go out in each category with each category winner then competing for a $1,000 grand prize. Sound intriguing? Check it out here.

Are the crisp fall air and changing colors churning your Type-A juices? Guess I’ll see you at the starting line…

Farewell, Summer

There’s no longer a way to deny the reality of the calendar: Summer is gone. Today is the first full day of fall. How did that happen?! Seems like it was just the Fourth of July a minute ago.

I’ve awakened with a nasty headache (probably due to the outrageous mold count of the past few days). Welcome to fall – and fall allergies.

And while we’re doing a little calendar housekeeping, here’s a belated shout-out to Jordan, cd’s firstborn, who turned 15 yesterday. Yeah. No denying that reality either – this boy is working on a license! Not sure how that happened either ...

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Thy Porcelain Awaits

Yesterday, I was just plain tired – and the rain made me achy and even more tired. Work was busy and by the time I got home, I was pretty unmotivated. So, I managed to fall asleep on the couch mid-evening. Nothing got done.

Tonight, however, I hope to start attacking my grout haze again and put yet another major dent in it. It would be nice to wrap that up this week. Besides, I still need to finish the bathroom walls and get ready to wallpaper not to mention there’s still some painting to do. (This includes the medicine cabinet door. Would be great to have a mirror in there again!)

So, there is no shortage of inside jobs I could be doing in the evenings. I just need the energy to do them.

If it doesn’t rain Saturday (and the forecast is already saying rain), I should be working on the driveway/carport with Lawrence. This is the job that ideally will put the carport back on level ground, reinforce the side edge of the driveway and keep it from deteriorating any further. This is a job that has to get done before the weather breaks. (That, and before Lawrence is no longer in good enough shape to do it. I hate to have such thoughts but you need to be realistic sometimes.)

Because the kitten spends a lot of time in the kitchen, it’s been hard to really do anything in there even though there's still plenty to be done. I’m still hoping to find her a home. I may actually have a few fallbacks, but I’m not going to jinx myself by not continuing to try and find her a home in the meantime. Cross your fingers ...

Remove the "less" from Homeless

Sometimes, from my office window, I spy them stretched out across the stone benches of the amphitheater in Kiener Plaza. Other days, as I board the bus to head downtown, they are camped out at the bus station or lined up in front of the mission just a block away, waiting for it to open.

They do not complain about black grout, weed-riddled lawns or sagging carports. They don’t even have anywhere decent to sleep much less somewhere to call home.

Not everyone who is homeless chooses to be. Some of these people have mental problems. Many of them are veterans. And others are people who – just like you and me – had jobs and homes and lives – but for some reason, they now find themselves on the street. (In this economy, it’s not a hard scenario to imagine. I think most of us are a handful of paychecks ahead of them.)

We are often a heartless society, casting away people with as little regard as the garbage we cart to the curb each week. Thankfully, that’s not always the case.

The United Nations has chosen the first Monday in October to be World Habitat Day - a day to stand up and let it be known that affordable, adequate housing should be a priority everywhere.

This year, that’s Oct. 5. You can do your part to support this cause of Habitat for Humanity by blogging, donating, or volunteering. Here are some other ways to help.

Whatever you do, do something.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Meeting Chris Botti, Part 2

The Fox Theatre is a virtual palace. I’ve been there many times for many things. There really isn’t a bad seat in the place. But, I have to say the seats I got for Friday night were hands down the best seats I’ve ever had to any concert anywhere, anytime.

Usher: Are you in Row A?
NV: No, ma’am. I believe we’re beyond Row A.
(Orchestra Pit, right, corner of the second to last section, 4th row, aisle seats.) Yeah. So close I could see them blink. I could hear every word of the off-mike repartee that is constant with this group.

Forgive the blur, but this was the view from my seat. (People were taking photos all night, even though you’re not supposed to. I was trying to be neither conspicuous nor disruptive and not using a flash, hence the blur.)
Botti is a show in and of himself but he had his regular recording band along with him including Guggenheim winner Billy Childs on piano, the comic duo that is guitarist Mark Whitfield and drummer Billy Kilson, and bassist Robert Hurst (Botti’s college roommate). Too much talent to be crammed on one stage, that’s for sure. In fact, if you added all the Grammys, Emmys, and other hardware this group has collected over the years, you’d be hard-pressed to fit it all on stage.

He also had a few guests. At one point, when he was telling a story about performing at a wedding in Tuscany last summer, I thought, just for a fleeting second, that maybe my wish had come true: that Sting would actually show up at one of his gigs. “No, Sting is not here,” he finally said. D*mn! Way to get my hopes up, Chris.

Apparently the bride had said that Sting was her favorite artist with Botti as her second favorite. “Guess which one she could afford?” he quipped. Apparently, the couple wasn’t aware that Sting lives in Tuscany. Botti ran into Sting while he was there and Sting inevitably asked if he could “crash” Botti’s gig. (A wedding in Tuscany – with Botti and Sting performing? Sh*t. That might even be worth getting married for!)

Instead, Susie Park of the Grammy-nominated Eroica Trio came on stage and gave a spine-tingling violin performance during Emmanuel. (If you click on no other link in this post, though I recommend them all, make it this one.) In some ways, it reminds me a bit of Itzhak Perlman on the Schindler’s List soundtrack. I’m a HUGE classical music fan and this piece is very moving. (This video link shows the original performer, Lucia Micarelli. Botti had hoped that Lucia would rejoin him in St. Louis after recovering from her hand injury, but it was not to be.) What made Park’s performance all the more amazing was that she had only met the band 90 MINUTES BEFORE THE SHOW. Yes, you read that right. And I thought Micarelli rocked the house when I saw her on the PBS special – the taping of which was why our show was canceled last year, BTW. For this song alone, I’ll forgive that.) Well, Ms. Park was certainly her equal, made all the better by seeing it live.

Another guest, whom we saw with Chris last time, was vocalist Sy Smith. (She is guitarist Whitfield’s cousin and he couldn’t help but hassle her while she performed.) Her dress was stunning this time (compared to some brash seafoam number last time), outshined only by her voice.

Botti couldn’t stay on stage the whole night and I couldn’t help myself when he parked himself at the end of our aisle as the evening came to a close. (The camera was right there after all.) And I managed to capture these.


All in all, I’d say it was well worth the wait. If Botti is headed your direction, go see him. You’re in for a real treat.

Meeting Chris Botti, Part 1

On Friday, I got out of work later than I’d planned. Picking up Pearl took longer than I’d anticipated. Even the drive/flight home was longer than usual. Only because I was in a hurry. Fate was rearing its ugly head already.

The mother had things well in hand at home so I had plenty of time to change. We even made it out of the house on time. (Rarely happens with the mother.) Traffic was every bit as bad as I’d thought and as we battled through rush hour, we joked about how this would be the way we’d miss meeting him this time.

Instead, we made it to Channel 9 by around 5:45 p.m. There was already a small group in the lobby and the mother and I snagged the last two available chairs. They told us we could go in soon but they weren’t quite ready for the meet and greet. Hurry up and wait mode began. We would be there for the next nearly 90 minutes.

They let us into the studio around 6:20 p.m. (For those in St. Louis – if you’ve ever seen their pledge drives on TV, it’s the same room where they do those.) The mother and I got a table (one of several spread throughout the room) about 25 feet from a director’s chair set up front. We were among the lucky. Eventually, they would tell people that they had “run out” of chairs.

People were strung oddly about the room.

We shared our table with a couple. About 15 minutes of idle chit chat followed. The wife eventually asked me, “Where did you two meet?” I had to stifle a chuckle. “Um, in the delivery room, 40 some years ago. I really don’t remember much about it.”

The woman stared at me quizzically until I finally said, “She’s my mother.” Much to the mother’s delight, the woman then said, “You two could be sisters!” Aw. Nice. (Feeling like the AARP is now breathing down my neck.)

Ultimately, I got us a place in the “greet line.” It was kind of unfair that people who had arrived 10 minutes earlier were at the front of this line, but it wasn’t actually a very well organized affair. (Even though the people at Channel 9 were accommodating, apologetic and incredibly nice.)

When they ushered some VIPs behind curtains, I knew he was in the building. By this time, it was close to 7 and the meet line snaked around the room. We, luckily, were in the front half. Minutes later, after a brief introduction, out came Chris Botti! The room erupted.

The rote was to have camera ready and hand it to Chris’s manager who apparently takes all the photos. (In fairness to the mother, she did get caught mid-blink.)The guy is really cute (especially for a blond guy which normally don’t grab me), incredibly nice and has a penchant for black clothing. And after almost three years, we finally got to meet him.


Finally.

And the show hadn't even started yet!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Blog Break

Hi! Remember me?

I logged off on Friday afternoon and well, stayed that way. I managed to go do a little real living, as opposed to the virtual version, for a few days! So, I apologize for just not having time to keep up with my blog or yours.

Friday night was AWESOME! (More on that in its own post -- with photos.)

Yesterday was officially "ME" day. I squeezed in a "play date" with the MonkeyGirl and spent the first part of the day scrapbooking. I hadn't even moved my scrapbooking stuff since April, so it was great to get back into it. It was even more wonderful to hang with the MonkeyGirl live and in person for a good chunk of the day. I don't think we'd even seen each other since June! This also meant I finally got to meet the illustrious Coal in person. What a furdude he is.

I did a little shopping on my own and then picked up dinner for the mother and I last night. And I spent the latter half of the evening sick as I think my antibiotics finally did a backfire on me. I hope the next few weeks that I'm on them for doesn't go this way. So far, so good today and I've taken both doses. Cross your fingers.

Today, I slept and slept. It had rained so I didn't get to mow. I spent the afternoon condensing, putting things away and doing little household chores that have been neglected in all of the DIY project chaos. This mean that nothing got done on the house this weekend.

This week though I plan to trade off between the kitchen and bathroom doing jobs a little at a time. Got to get back on track.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Flurry of a Friday

It’s been a busy 18 hours. Last night, I started getting everything ready for tonight. After almost three years of trying to get the mother to a Chris Botti meet and greet, dare I hope that it might actually happen?

I managed to go to not one but two grocery stores last night. Came home, put everything away, cooked for the animals, got clothes ready for today and tonight, righted the kitchen after a Taz play session, ran the sweeper, did dishes, and finally took a shower and literally fell into bed. (I think I mentioned that the mother has been working over at my late uncle’s house. I’ve been picking up the slack at home in the meantime.)

D*mned alarm went off way too early. Pearl and I flew to the office this morning (that’s one of the special things about only working a half-day, I drive.) I have since delivered her to the carwash across the street where I plan to reclaim her around 12:30. Then, it’s a flight back home to get ready for tonight.

Somewhere in between, I have to manage to get some work done. Whew! I’m tired just thinking about it.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Wehadababyitsagirl!

That's the obviously excited text I received this afternoon from the MonkeyGirl. It seems that Skaterbaby, child of the Skaterboy, MonkeyGirl's sorta (step)son, has arrived.


Baby Jaden checked in at 2:22 today, weighing 6 pounds, 13 ounces. MonkeyGirl reports that all is well. Congratulations to the Monkeygirls and to Skaterboy. I'm sure she's beautiful. Can't wait to see her!


With the M&Ms and the Iowa nephews, it isn't like MonkeyGirl doesn't already have lots and lots of kidpix. I think we all know there are going to be a whole lot more now! (Especially since the nephew to nieces ratio is 4:1.)


There's like a bumper crop of babies this year! It was just a few months ago that little Braidon arrived, turning Mama Martha into Grandma Martha. Hey, Braidon ... the MonkeyGirl has a girl for you. (Might as well start the cradle match-making, right?)


I was telling the mother that it's something of a tragedy to turn a person in their early 40s into a grandparent. I guess it just feels that way to me because I never got around to having kids, and now the group's "babies" are having babies!


"Well," says the mother, "at least they'll still be young enough to enjoy them."


I guess I can't argue with that logic. I know they're going to enjoy this one.

Naming Names

I've told you that a lot of the things we purchased for the house lately have been online. That includes the new stove, range hood and refrigerator in the kitchen and even the faux tin ceilings for both the kitchen and bathroom.

So, with all of these purchases made and in some state of use, it’s time to start naming some names and both lauding and lambasting where necessary.

First up: the refrigerator. Merchant: HomeDepot.com.
If you’re appliance shopping in a Home Depot store, know that at least some of the sales staff don’t even know what products their company carries. If it isn’t on the showroom floor, chances are good they can’t be bothered with it. That was our experience after the mother fell in love with a larger than average fridge in-store. We were told there wasn’t a standard-sized version of this model made by that manufacturer or any other. Liar!

I was shocked to find one on their Web site. It was also during a time that they were offering 10 percent off online purchases. And while competitor Lowe’s offers free delivery and setup, there’s one key difference: Home Depot is FREE outright; Lowe’s requires a rebate process. Boo! Hiss!

I can’t say enough good things about how easy it was to buy the refrigerator and arrange for the delivery AND how wonderful the delivery guys were. They were on time, courteous and OVERLY SENSITIVE to the safety of our front door (which had to be removed) and our furnishings as they wiggled their way through the house with the refrigerator.

Next: the stove and range hood. Merchant: HomeEverything.com
Not sure how I stumbled upon this New York supplier but I know they had the best price for our stove and range hood. And I looked everywhere! This Web site has tons of merchandise (they are pretty serious about the everything part of their name) and most of the reviews I read online were very positive. For the most part, so was our experience. They had some prices that jumped around during the course of a week and while delivery was free, that didn’t get it into the house. (UPS Freight delivered it; they would not set it inside the front door because we “have a step” (also known as a stoop) to get in the door. And they “can’t do steps.” I was not amused by this as it forced my 67-year-old mother and I to drag it in as best we could – after we unboxed it.) So, you might have to spring for the $50 charge though I think that would have been excessive in our case.

As for unboxing, this thing was WRAPPED and that’s very good. It was wrapped and wrapped and wrapped. Both the stove and range hood arrived in good condition. The stovetop works but we’ve yet to take the oven for a spin! And we love our new hood which was at least $50 less than the next cheapest price we could find on or offline.

And finally: The Ceilings Merchant: SurfacingSolution.com
I looked at a lot of different types of ceiling panels to do the Michelangelo Project and we ultimately went with the one I found online. They were kind enough to send me a few samples. After doing a few tests with spray paint, we were sold – this was the one! And, after having now done the bath and kitchen ceilings, and planning to do the family room this fall/winter, I can’t say enough good things about this product. It is time-consuming and neck-wrenching work, but the end result is SO worth it. And the price? Unless you inherit some original tin ceilings, I cannot think of a better or cheaper option that makes such an amazing difference. (Unless you buy pre-painted – then it can get pricey. We just bought the unpainted white and did the metallic/gloss painting ourselves.)

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Can I Have This Dance?

I love a lot of things and a lot of people. But when it comes to romantic love, I think it’s a four-letter word with good reason. Save it for the movies.

I’m sure I’m not alone.

But if there was ever something to give me pause on that count, it’s the Monkeygirls. The MonkeyGirl and I have been friends, well, since God was a boy. And the cutest part? Mr. Monkeygirl has been in love with her for even longer than that! Trust me. It's a long time.

For the past decade, these two have been the subject of some of my cutest, sweetest, and smoochiest photos. It just makes your teeth rot. (Code for “I love that!”) They’re just so d*mned cute together. See for yourself.

They always have been. They make me believe in spite of myself.

Even though they haven’t always been together. I like to think that they each had a “practice run” before getting it right. They give me hope.

They made it official three years ago today. I’m happy to say that I was privileged to be one of the witnesses and actually sign on the dotted line of their marriage license. They are my friends.

And I love them both. Happy anniversary to one of the best couples ever. May you always be as happy as you were then!

Doctor's Orders

I listened to those of you who said. "Go to the doctor." The sore throat was getting worse and there was a significant color change in what my nose and throat were offering me. Yeah. It's time, I decided yesterday and called bright and early.


My allergist has multiple offices all over my county and into St. Louis. I have a hard time trying to figure out if he's here, there or where. As luck would have it, he was not only close to home yesterday, I got a late afternoon appointment! As I suspected, I have a raging sinus infection.


I spent longer at Walgreens than in the doctor's office but after a first round of medicine (including antibiotics, nasal spray and eardrops), a bit of Mucinex, and a handful of throat lozenges, life is slowly getting better. Yes, I am a walking pharmacy! My throat is still sore but it no longer feels like I've been drinking lye or sucking on a blowtorch. Progress.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Haunted

I didn't notice the clock on the cable box in the livingroom this morning. Maybe it was on when I got up. It's one of three clocks I rely on every day as I roam the house preparing to leave for work.

I only know that shortly after 6 when I looked at it it was not there! I thought perhaps the mother had inadvertently pushed a series of buttons to turn off the clock. (She's very good at that.) But no. She seemed faultless on this count as soon after, the channel display appeared and locked.

A few seconds later, the television rapidly flipped through the last two channel changes I'd tried to make. What the hell? Maybe it's haunted. More likely, it's something those idiots at Charter are doing. We really do need to switch.

But speaking of haunted, there is this lovely old building in the middle of what had to have once been a bustling downtown East St. Louis. (It's now a ghetto.) Looks like an old theater. There's also a pretty building beside it.

I've been noticing it for years since my daily path usually takes within view of it, but from a distance. After getting a more close-up view of it last night (one of several times in the past few weeks due to the bus route detouring) I finally decided to do a little research on it.

Turns out it is an old theater, the Majestic. And man, it must have been. Check this out from its glory days. Just like the postcard says, it was a million-dollar venue when it opened in 1928.

Pretty cool, eh? But then I found this slideshow on Flickr. Not so cool. It made my heart sink. You know how I am about old buildings. Make sure you go through the whole Majestic collection. There's also some nice shots of the Murphy building next door. Gorgeous!

And crumbling. Those photos were taken more than three years ago. Makes me shudder to think about how much farther into ruin this glorious old building has slipped since then. And then there's the lovely little bast*rds putting graffiti all over it. Yeah, paint over it you little turds!

Why don't you try to see someone about painting the INSIDE instead and do something to preserve and promote your heritage instead of destroying priceless history?

Monday, September 14, 2009

Headlines

If DIY is a bellwether for the economy, maybe things are slowly getting better. Or, at least that's Home Depot's story to The Wall Street Journal last week. It's nice to know that our little segment is putting some positive news out there!

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Home improvement is tough enough without doing it to the wrong house. My friend KayO shared this little gem. I'm still laughing even though they do have my sympathies.

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A throwback to our generation's growing up with The Flintstones? Maybe. Apparently, the look of natural stone is coming back in a huge way, courtesy of DIYers. But poor Fred would be out of a job because this stuff is MANUFACTURED! Wiiiiiillllmmma!

****
People ask me a lot why I don't mess with electricity. I guess because I do so many different jobs -- many which I know not what I do, I just jump in -- they assume that electricity would be that way for me, too. Not so! This story from across the pond illustrates why.

Gluhhhhrg!

I woke up Saturday morning with a bit of a sore throat. By the time that the mother and I headed out for a shopping adventure in the early afternoon, it had greatly improved. Saturday was a day to dial it back a bit. We picked up things to work on the house, bought some gifts for some soon-to-arrive babies, enjoyed a Chinese dinner, and I spent the latter part of the evening working on the bathroom floor. It’s finally coming along.

For some weeks, I’ve been having nose-related issues (I won’t gross you out with the details, but I think you can imagine) that just won’t seem to let up. Now, as of yesterday, my throat has officially joined the ranks. The soreness returned with a vengeance overnight Saturday, hurting and making me cough, needing to blow my nose, etc. for a good chunk of the night. I woke up early yesterday feeling like death in a sack with the throat pain having added my right ear to the roster. I put some ear drops in and tried to rest but couldn’t get comfortable. I finally gave up and started dragging myself through my day.

The mother has been helping the godmother get my late great-uncle’s house ready for sale. It’s been an arduous task to say the least. I had promised that I would take a bunch of yard waste from there to the dump the next time I took ours. Well, I didn’t manage to fit this into Saturday’s laid-back schedule, so I did it yesterday. The bright spot in the whole weekend was NOT having to mow. (Having just done it Thursday night.) But, there were three bags of clippings just waiting to be dropped off. And twice that many – plus a huge box of twigs and branches – were at my uncle’s. When I say I took a carful, I mean a car full. Trunk loaded and held by bungee, passenger seat full, half of backseat loaded. What a mess! Poor Ladybird. I really do need to wash her now and vacuum out the interior and trunk!

I also tried to do some repair to my brick walkway, replacing the cement and sand that has washed away in some parts during the past year. Looking at it this morning, I did miss a few places. (Not surprising, considering how bad I felt at that point in the day.) Other parts look really good though so I know my walkway will survive another winter!

I had a few other things I wanted to do, including washing Pearl, but it was just not to be. By the time I got everything put away outside and then came in and took care of the animals, I had barely enough energy left to shower. I tried to pick up the pace, but ended up taking a 2-hour nap mid-evening.

While I do feel better today, I don’t feel a lot better. Hoping this is only a temporary thing as I’m kind of sick of feeling like there’s a marble (shooter-sized) in my throat.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Grout Haze Grind

I didn't give up on my bathroom floor. I've tried things little by little and seem to finally have hit upon a winning combination: SOS pad (used in moderation) followed by a Clorox wipe and then a buffing with a cotton cloth.


I'm not done yet but making progress. I'll let you decide if it's working. There are about five different spots where I have deemed the haze "really bad." Here's one just inside the door.


It's one of the parts that I have focused on because it is just inside the door -- marring the beauty of the rest of the floor at first glance. Here's what I've managed to do thus far.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Third Time: A Charm?

In 2006, I surprised the mother for her birthday with tickets to not only see jazz trumpeter Chris Botti perform, but to meet him in person. It was a thank-you gift from our PBS affiliate for joining.

She was very excited. I was all patting myself on the back as the mother is next to impossible to die for. This was in November; the concert was in January 2007.

She picked up a bug by Thanksgiving. By Christmas, she was seriously ill. By New Years, she had pneumonia. I finally persuaded her to go to the doctor (hogtied her and pushed her in the car was more like it) who confirmed my diagnosis. About a week before the concert, she was feeling somewhat better and was determined to go. The weather had been warmer than normal and everything seemed to be on track. Until the day of the concert.

In the day or two before, she was feeling bad again. By Saturday, she was struggling but still determined to go. We never made it. Strike one.

The next year she finally DID get to see him, but they hadn't made the meet and greet offer. Then in June 2008, they offered it again for a September concert! I renewed right away.

The concert was canceled a few weeks beforehand. TWO strikes.

Then, earlier this year, they announced that tickets to the show canceled last year was being honored THIS year, again in September. There was no mention of a meet and greet though. Bummer.

The other day, while I was taking a quick break from mowing, I saw the PBS envelope in the mail. Didn't feel like there were tickets in there -- and the show is Friday. Sh*t!

Not only were there tickets in there (FOURTH ROW from the stage, thankuverymuch) and at the Fox where there really is no bad seat -- the accompanying letter is our ticket to a meet and greet before the show! Now to see if the third time really is a charm ...

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Rude Dude

I raced home last night trying to get as much daylight as possible. I mowed! That would mean I’d need a mower, right?

The bad news: Stan, Stan the Lawnmower Man is no more. He officially quit his business earlier this year. Who knew? A devastating bit o’news indeed! Not sure what I’ll do in the future. The good news: He said he’d look at the mower for me. The better news: It cost $30 to fix and was returned to me Wednesday night.

By then I was already in the throes of animal care and general household chores and it was well after 6:30, meaning there wasn’t a whole lot of daylight left. And, as I also had planned to watch Obama’s healthcare address, I postponed mowing until last night.

The grass was tall and thick and daylight was fleeting but I moved quickly, stopping only briefly when the mother showed up (she’s been working over at my late uncle’s house to help my godmother get it ready to sell) and once to get another trash bag and grab a cold drink. And it was warm last night. So I was drenched and exhausted when I marched back in the house just past dusk. But, it was $10 night at the grocery store (off a $50 purchase) and Mother Hubbard’s cupboard was getting mighty bare.

I showered and dressed and headed out. Though the shower had helped, I was tired and a little achy as I pulled into the lot. It was pretty full. I felt like Kathy Bates on the lot at Winn Dixie in Fried Green Tomatoes. Little did I know how close to recreating this scene I’d come.

An SUV in the second spot from the main drag began backing out. I stopped at the intersection, threw on my blinker and left lots of clearance so the man could both back out and turn onto the main drag. He no sooner started his turn and I took my foot off the brake than a car goes speeding around me – and right into the spot I was waiting for. If I had been driving Ladybird instead of Pearl, the temptation to go all Kathy Bates on him might have been irresistible. “I’m older and I have more insurance.” Instead …

Hey! I yelled and blasted the horn. Luckily, there was another space a few spots farther down on the other side or I’d have been even madder. Mr. Rude Dude, a tall dark 20-something, emerged from his car as I was walking toward the store. “Would you mind telling me what I did wrong?” he belligerently asks.

This was akin to the infamous shot at Fort Sumter. Or, for the non-historians, akin to Bugs Bunny’s classic line: “You realize dat dis means woar.”

NV: Oh, I don’t mind at all. You cut me off.
RD: Cut you off?
NV: Yes. I was sitting there with a blinker on waiting for that man to back out when you went whistling by. I wasn’t doing that because it’s fun.


At this point, I thought he might actually apologize. I could unruffle my feathers and forgive an oversight. Maybe he was just absentmindedly driving along. Who hasn’t done that? But no.
RD: Blinker? I didn’t see any blinker. I wasn’t looking for a blinker. Who uses a blinker on a parking lot?

Oh. My. God. It’s a wonder I didn’t bust a vein. Mind you, I’m not the greatest driver in the world, but this boy is an idiot. Profanity was on the tip of my tongue, but I paused long enough to regain a bit of composure. Just a bit. Then I fired … with both barrels.
NV: Anyone who is making a turn should use a blinker, especially if you’re waiting for a space. What kind of moron are you? Probably the kind who doesn’t even use blinkers on the street. Jerk.

And I walked off. It felt almost as good as bashing in his car would have, but left my car unscathed and my insurance rates intact. Towanda!

Lest We Forget

Could it really have been eight years ago? That seems so long ago for a day whose events still burn so brightly in my memory. I guess we all remember what we were doing, where we were when the Twin Towers were hit and I guess we always will.

I wrote last year about what had been going on with me until then and how I watched this diabolical act unfold, so I won’t do that again here. But what I didn’t write about was the sheer terror of it all. I remember watching coverage of the Oklahoma City bombing, thinking how horrible that was and how almost unfathomable it was that such a thing could even happen.

Then came 9-11. Talk about unfathomable.

And that, that little point right there, that is how terror gets its strength. It gets its toehold in the very notion that any of us care about anyone or anything. To know fear, you have to have something to lose. Terror then is fear on steroids more powerful than any ballplayer has ever ingested. Terror is making people afraid to do anything. It is, by design, meant to paralyze people.

Terror is having something to lose … but not knowing what mundane act can rub it all out in a heartbeat so that you can avoid it. Something as ordinary as going to work. Or hopping a plane. Or meeting someone for breakfast in a skyscraper in New York.

Do we need further evidence that life isn’t fair? I don’t think so. We don’t always get that break, that second chance, that opportunity to make it all right. We curse our luck when things don’t go as planned.

I guess that’s why even this many years later, I’m still rocked by the “what if” stories I heard in the days and weeks that immediately followed 9-11. The man whose shoelace broke so he stopped to buy a new one. The mother whose child was particularly “slow” that morning, making her run late. The guy who overslept and missed his flight.

All people who might otherwise have been dead but for that one thing that kept them from their “plans.” One little ordinary thing, a little thing that made a world of difference … to someone.

That’s why I’m heartened by today being designated as a national day of service.

People will be doing all kinds of mundane things today – painting houses, manning foodbanks, picking up trash – volunteering or helping out in a variety of ways. I can't think of a better way to honor the memories of those who died just doing their jobs.

Doing good is like Kryptonite for terror. And there’s nothing ordinary or mundane about that.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Ugg Boy

Considering that I just didn’t feel like writing anything about This D*mn House this morning – and didn’t – I figure why ruin a good thing? I’ll keep with that theme today, only this time, share some photos I couldn’t help but snap the other night while waiting for the bus.

Bus mother and I saw this pair coming from quite a distance away. “Aw, look at him in shorts and cowboy boots,” the bus mother said, laughing. But the closer they got – on this 87-degree day – I realized that those weren’t cowboy boots at all. They were Uggs!

As they crossed the street and then started walking away from us, I was stricken by the image of the little Ugg Boy and the way he interacted with his mother. So, I had to get the camera out.



It’s just these kinds of visuals that have me carrying a camera every day. I don’t like to think, “Gee, I wish I’d gotten a photo of that.” And before buying a new camera earlier this year, I did just that. A lot.

Morning Scenes

I pass her as I make my way to the bus. She is blonde and thin and clutching a magazine. A hair clip dangles from the hem of her T-shirt, emblazoned with a Teddy bear (wearing a huge gold necklace) and the message: “How Bad Am I?” Her hair is all over the place, longish, teased high on her head, not unlike a 1980s rock band member.

Her skin is drawn and china white. You can see on her face that neither life nor the years have been kind to her. She’s probably younger than I, yet she looks at least a decade older.

She is drunk or stoned or a combination of the two. As I slide into my seat, she boards the bus. Slappy is driving this morning. (I have no idea what his name actually is; I call him that because he reminds me of Slappy White, both in appearance and demeanor.) Her appearance temporarily challenges even his perpetual cheeriness.

She takes a seat up front and as the bus begins its journey, her head begins a ritual bobbing, bouncing continually between sleep and a semi-conscious stupor. As the sun rises higher in the sky pouring its light into the bus, she jerks awake suddenly. For her sake, I wish she could just go on sleeping.
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A young black girl boards, balancing a pudgy light-skinned baby on her hip as she drops her fare in the box. As each coin hits bottom *clink* the baby giggles, the volume rising with each falling piece of change. She slips into a seat up front, plunking the child onto her lap. He immediately begins to shake his head violently back and forth, laughing all the while.

The young mother is laughing, too. “You so silly,” she tells him as she tries to kiss the top of his spinning head. As her lips brush his hair, his legs begin to kick and he is squealing a high-pitched squeal, stopping his head to catch the kiss, now waving his arms up and down instead. It’s a treat to see such simple and pure joy.
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At the back of the bus, a socio-political debate is brewing. Two young teens, both decked out in skater attire, maybe fresh from high school, are talking to two older black men about last night's Presidential address. One of the boys is acne-scarred. Freckles cover his face where the blemishes don’t. “Man, I can’t afford no insurance,” he tells one of the men.

“You can’t afford any insurance,” the older man corrects him. “That’s why you have got to get a job.”
****

After reaching downtown, the bus lurches to a stop at the train station. “Have a nice day, y’all,” Slappy calls to the departing passengers. The teenage boys both leap off the step from the backdoor, laughing as they go. The blonde stumbles to her feet, wavers, and then walks off, careening all the way. And the baby? He giggles non-stop, wildly kicking his legs as his mother throws him over her shoulder.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Step It Up

One of the reasons I got slowed down doing the cabinets was that I was trying to do a bit of organizing along the way. With the mother gone, it was the perfect time to rotate some things downstairs and to get rid of others entirely.

I bought a bunch of organizer shelves, slide drawers and other products and brought them home for a trial run. Because the mother loves to put knick knacks in the already full cabinets, too, I was intrigued by this three-tier, stairstep expandable shelf organizer which seemed like it would be ideal for the spice cabinet. (I got it at Lowe’s for about $1 more than this online price.)

This thing really comes in handy. I never got around to organizing the spice cabinet while the mother was gone though I had bought this handy new shelf, a nice but smaller stainless tiered spice shelf and two new stainless round spinner shelves to replace a set of aged plastic ones in oh so lovely harvest gold.

What I did get around to organizing was the under-the-sink cabinet.

On a whim, I tried the expandable shelf there and man, did it work great! The shelf will expand to 26 inches, so it was a great choice for the 23-inch deep cabinet. I was able to arrange, by category, a variety of cleaning products. And the beauty is, I can not only see all of them, I don’t have to move five or six to get to any one of them.

Look how much stuff it holds. You can see each little step if you look closely.

It really opened up a little space together with a set of stacking shelves that I put along the other side of the cabinet. The mother didn’t even balk.

Over the weekend, I bought another of the expandable shelves to replace the one I’d used elsewhere. On Monday, the mother decided to do the spice cabinet.

I quickly put the shelf in place where I’d intended it to go. While you can’t see the shelf, you can see that it is multi-level. From the right side, it's easy to see three graduated rows of items.

Can you believe that this is after some stuff had already been taken out by me and the mother even removed a few more things Monday? Clearing up some of that space made the other two shelves completely functional. (I’m loving the new stainless spinners. Aren't they fun?) On the bottom shelf is the three-level spice rack. The mother doesn't like this, but she's dealing with it. She says it takes up too much space.

So, if you have a lot of items to store, even in a relatively tight space, this is a product that can do it while still giving you the functionality that you need.

Other than online, Lowe's was the only store I found this shelf at. I think I paid $15 for each of them. They are worth every penny.

No Photos UPDATED

I was all ready to post this morning, complete with photos, but Blogger says "No way, Jose." I'm not sure if it's on my end or theirs but I can't upload photos.

So, we'll have to investigate the technical difficulties in order to get back to our regularly scheduled program.

Stay tuned.

UPDATE: Apparently, it is a Blogger issue. So, if you're a Blogger blogger this is probablyb why your photos aren't working. I'm one of at least a dozen folks complaining/questioning online during the past 4 hours or so. Here's hoping it gets resolved soon.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

If At First You Don’t Succeed

You’ve heard the old adage. Well, since I’ve got a blue streak of stubborn at the very core of my being, I’m not even about to give up and go the acid route on the bathroom floor – yet .

Even though my right hand and wrist are in a wicked state, I’m still going to try another round of remedies to remove that d*mn grout. I’ve already tried vinegar/water, baking soda, baking soda and vinegar, all of the preceding with a nylon scrubby, and Mr. Clean erasers. None of these worked very well, if at all.

So, last night I found a variety of other things to try including:
· Clorox wipes
· Windex
· SOS pad
· CLR/Limeaway

All of these things supposedly have worked for other people in similar circumstances. We happen to have ALL of these in the house … somewhere. I’m planning to try each one on the tile behind the sink, the area that’s the worst (because I missed it in the initial wipedown and it’s more than just haze there, it’s pretty well covered.) Depending on the result, I’ll then try it on some of the tiles that will be more than half-covered with quarter-round.

If none of those work, I’ll resort to buying some items. I’ll start with a pumice stick (which doesn’t appear to be very different from what you use on your feet) or a Doodlebug scrubbing kit. (I think I can just buy the pads for this but I’m not sure.)

OK, grout, you may have won the battle. You haven’t won the war.

Two Words

I find it ironic that on the very day that is the unofficial holiday of the DIYer that my luck would suck so badly. It began in the wee hours, with me finishing the grout on the bathroom tile. It’s done, but … and this is a butt that would rival the size of JLo’s.

But, there’s those two words that no DIYer ever wants to hear: grout haze.

I’m not sure why, when I managed to avoid it my first time out. Except maybe that by putting enough water in this time, I was spreading it a bit too liberally. Too liberally for even my extra sponge and the many many gallons of clean water I kept going to contend with.

I also think it was warmer in the house – and drier. We’d actually managed to start drying out from day after day of downpours. That’s all I can think. Who knows? When it comes to grouting hex tile or any tile involving black grout, I've got two more words: Never again.

Suffice it to say that it was very disappointing. I spent more than an hour yesterday trying different remedies to remove it but all I managed to do was to screw up the grout in a place or two instead. So, now I’ll have to wait at least 10 days and get some kind of acid to try and remove it. Unless anyone has any other good suggestions.

So, having a dry day, I figured I had better get the lawn mowed. The mower made one pass and promptly died. I knew it wasn’t out of gas, but figured it had gotten clogged by some wet grass. When I took off the bagger, it was all clear. What the hell?

It restarted again but promptly died. And then would never restart. Stan the Lawnmower Man wasn’t at home, so I need to keep an eye out for him . I was so hoping I could get through this season as a new mower is already on next year’s list!

Here’s hoping your holiday was infinitely less frustrating and more productive than mine.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Sloth

Yes, that would describe me. Yesterday, I didn't even get out of my pajamas. Me. Can you imagine?! I'm finding that inactivity breeds inactivity. The less I do, the more I want to do less. That's not such a good thing.

Today, I slept in and besides doing some running to get things for the house and taking care of the animals, I've done nothing. Nothing.

I'm about to change that though. I'll be going in shortly to finish grouting the bathroom. I'm gritting my teeth as I type this. Hoping it won't be that bad. This time, I'll be ready though with a better plan, an extra sponge and lots more water at the ready.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Recharge

I was jarred awake by thunder and lightning that shook then lit up my room. Unsure what day it was, I inched down the bed and hit the clock. 6:03.

My heart fluttered as my brain tried desperately to work through the jolted-awake haze to determine the day. I worked yesterday, yes. Oh, wait. It's Saturday! I rolled back over and into the arms of sleep, allowing its gentle embrace to envelop me. Ahhhhh.

I'm only up now because of the kitten. And it doesn't make much sense to stay up much longer. The weather radar shows the rain is going to be with us for a while yet. So, I'm going to eat something and take some Tylenol and return to the comforting confines of bed. To recharge.

Friday, September 4, 2009

The Grout Rout

The subtitle to this would be: Or Why the Bathroom Is Only Two-thirds Grouted.

I’ve been reading about putting down porcelain tile and putting in grout for months now. Many of you were kind enough to offer opinions as I waffled over a grout color for the bathroom.

Ultimately, as we now know, I chose black. And I know it was the right decision. It’s very pretty. It just makes a tough job that much tougher.

That’s because no one tells you you need more than one bucket of water as well as several sponges to do a good job, particularly if your grout is dark and your tile is light. Or at least no one told me. I knew I’d have to change the water during the process. I just didn’t know I was going to need to do that after just a few swipes of the sponge! Mind you, I’m doing this alone.


Early on, I scrambled to add a second bucket to the line-up and very quickly ran out and filled up both with the hose, leaving one full on the porch. I rotated and refilled as needed. (This is NOT stuff you can dump down the drain either and since grout has a pretty short shelf-life – maybe an hour, tops – you’ve got to “move fast, fast, fast” as my dear friend PB put it. So, there was a whole lot of running in between battling the grout.)

I’d never grouted before and let’s just say the float and I didn’t get along from the start. Add to this that I was working with hex tiles, with a manillion little grout lines to fill. (I’ve got to think my next adventure with 12x12 solid tiles will be infinitely easier.) With sanded grout. Yeah. This was a classic case of baptism by fire.

I know that it’s important to start wiping down as soon as you see it starting to haze. That happened pretty quickly and I was falling behind fast. Not to mention that I had already seen I was not going to be able to get along the tub and behind the toilet because I’d already started grouting in the area where I’d have to lay across to accomplish this. (While the toilet was out for me to put the tile down. It was back in place when I went to grout. It had to be. It’s our only bathroom!)



As I used the sponge for the very first time, I think I gasped. Man, that black grout just made that tile pop. It was awesome! But the experience only got ugly from there.

Just as I was starting to make a little progress with the float, I heard a hellatious crash and then a thundering of paws through the house. I scrambled to my feet to investigate.

Taz, who had been barricaded in the kitchen, had done a Houdini. I don’t know if she toppled the smaller of the boxes used to keep her inside or if it was Toby being aggressive. In either case, the toppled box had hit – and flipped – a shared water bowl, sending the entire contents all over the dining room floor. So, I simultaneoulsy had a kitten loose in a house filled with danger (not the least of which is Toby the Terrible), a lake to mop up in the dining room (and quickly, because laminate will warp), and a ticking clock on a batch of grout. Oh, and by this time it was 11:30 p.m. and I had to go to work the next morning. Perfect!

More than 30 minutes later, the kitten was in bed for the night, the water was mopped up, drinking water replaced, and I was back on my butt in the bathroom floor. The grout was starting to set. I didn’t have long left at all. I hurriedly began trying to spread it, only now the goal was to get as much of a pathway between the door and the toilet filled in as possible. I hit a major snag in that the grout on my float was setting too and instead of spreading the grout into the lines, the quickly drying grout on its surface was now pulling the grout out. Having nothing else to work with, I continued my efforts at lightning speed using just the latex gloves on my hands, carefully smoothing the grout with my plastic fingers. Remember, I’m new to grout and I suck at this.

Just as I laid grout into the tile nearest the doorway, the grout in the bucket was no longer usable. For about 2 seconds I debated adding a little water to it so I could keep on going. Instead, I heeded the warning in my head, placed there by reading all mannner of tips, how-tos and other cautionary tales on grouting tile, saying not to do this. I started frantically trying to wipe down, but the grout was stubborn. By this time, it was nearly 1:30 a.m., I was exhausted and had to get up for work in just a few short hours. And I still had to clean up tools, buckets, and all the places that grout had managed to land or that concrete dust had managed to splash. (SO glad I’d painted my walls white the day before – NOT!) By this point, exhausted and exasperated, with black-spattered knees and blackened wrists where grout had slid in behind my gloves, I was in tears. (I think I earned a brief, minor meltdown.)

The good news is that the bath is so small, I’d only used around half the grout I bought. That meant I still had grout – from the same dry batch – to use to complete the job. Here’s hoping that I’ll be consistent enough in my mixing (though I think the first batch was too dry) for the shade to stay the same when I finish up this weekend.

The mother was with my godmother this morning and called to tell me they were heading over to my late great-uncle’s home. She was admiring my handiwork and asked the mother to ask me if I was for hire. “You couldn’t afford me,” the mother relayed for me via the phone, and I could hear them both laughing.

Seriously, I’ll help my godmother do anything she wants. (She is only now starting to face the reality that is the house that’s been standing empty since my uncle’s death months ago. ) I’ll help her do anything – as long as it doesn’t involve black grout.

O.K., So I Promised

that I would share pictures. And I did -- but of the bathroom tile. Well, here's what some of you have been waiting to see, including me: the kitchen cabinets.


It was with great joy and a jolt of excitement that I was able to step back into the dining room on Saturday morning to admire the first of the completed kitchen cabinet doors. I'd been waiting months for that moment and I like to think it was worth it. Especially after I started adding to the collection in the days that followed. That's what gets us to this view.

You'll have to excuse all of the debris, the fact that some of the doors are not done, none of the doors have hardware yet, the drawer fronts are still unchanged and that the lower cabinets haven't even been cleaned out yet so they're a mess. Just ignore all that. Please.

But you can admire the backsplash if you'd like. Oh, go ahead. I'll let you. Now I can't wait to see the new faucet against the backdrop of the cabinets and the backsplash. But I will have to. As you can see, I still have plenty more cabinet doors to do. And plenty of touch-up painting.

So, that's how far I got on these during Project Genesis. I'm declaring the mission an overall success. And now, with a three-day weekend looming large, I'm hoping to make even more progress on the variety of tasks on the list.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Update: Good, Bad and Indifferent

Last night, the mother’s luggage arrived safely in St. Louis. She, however, did not.

After all that work and all the madness of yesterday in trying to get things half-way decent, my hopes for a big “reveal” blew up like so much smoke. Turns out that a delay in getting to Atlanta caused the mother and her friend to miss their flight home. They spent the night there and got another flight out today.

Someone else picked them up this morning. I couldn’t leave things the way I’d wanted her to see them so she had to see them as she saw them.

She finally got home earlier. Mind you, I haven’t been able to really talk to her, or to show her some things, but it has gotten little more than a shoulder shrug so far.

What a gyp, man. That would be our "indifferent" installment -- at least for now.

The bad is that Ozzie is sick. He was yakking all over this morning, making me really late, meaning I had to do a bus/train combination. (Buses only cross the river certain hours each day.) The bus was crowded, noisy, and I couldn't work or write.

The good? Well, the mother IS finally home. I didn't have to go to the airport last night. And, the only thing standing between me and a three-day weekend is the rest of today and an abbreviated tomorrow. Got to love that!

I'd be completely remiss if I didn't point out this bit o'good: today is my dear, longtime friend CD's birthday. Happy birthday, girl! Hope it's a great one. And Micki, if you're reading, thanks for giving me such a wonderful friend.

Update: I’m feeling MUCH better now. The mother called me during lunch asking where this was and that was and uttered a line I wish I’d heard first thing this morning: “I don’t know how you got all of this done.”

(What is it that Jayne always says about perserverance and the snail? Well, that’s how.) Looking back, I’m thinking if I’d had another week … it might have been done. But, I also might have been done, too, as I don’t think I’ve had more than 20 hours of sleep total since she left.

She also was grateful that the yard was cut so it didn’t look scraggly with company on site. And what’s funny is that she’s still so out of sorts, not to mention tired, that she hasn’t even SEEN everything yet. I just had to tell her to go look out the kitchen window at the shed! Can’t wait to get home and see what else she hasn’t even discovered yet. And yes,pictures are coming.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Achilles Heel

While we’re counting down to the mother's reveal, here’s the first of a handful of stories relating to the new bathroom tile.

The ever-faithful Lawrence arrived Monday morning as planned, loaded with humor, a can-do spirit and that joyous nature that sometimes makes my cynical side say: “No one can be that happy all the time. Not really.” But somehow I think Lawrence can.

His first order of business was to fix the wayward kitchen sink. Luckily, I hadn’t attempted to replace the shut-off valve; there was nothing wrong with it! The culprit was a tiny washer and spring. I ran to our local Ace (closest hardware store, even after Lowe’s opens later this year), got a replacement kit and less than 10 minutes later, we had hot water in the kitchen sink again! Meanwhile, I was busy preparing to lay the bathroom tile. I’ve never mixed thinset so I wasn’t sure about consistency. “You want it just about like the mortar you used for your bricks,” Lawrence coached. Oh. Well, I can handle that. While most of my bricks were dry-set, I’d mixed my share of mortar to build both the perimeter around the porch and the facing for the front stoop.

Then, I wasn’t sure how thick thinset is to go on. (They don’t call it thickset, after all, but how thin was too thin?) After warning me that tiling was “not his forte,” Lawrence spread some all over the floor and pressed one tile of the hex mosaics into place. Thinset immediately began to come up over the top, completely filling the grout lines. The next three tiles did the exact same thing.


I took over from Lawrence and immediately made thinset live up to its name. The next few tiles went down, seemed to grab almost immediately and oozed out thinset in one or two spots. Looks like I’ve got the hang of this, I said proudly.

When Lawrence came back to check on me, I was sailing right along. When I got up, those first tiles disturbed me. “I’m going to pull those up, take them out and hose them off, and just start over in that corner,” I told Lawrence. He volunteered for that job. “I’ve only ever done four tiles,” Lawrence said, almost apologetically. Really? I wondered what rooms and materials he’d used before.

“No,” Lawrence said. “I’ve only done four tiles. Those.” That made me laugh, in part, because it was comical that Lawrence – the poster child for jack-of-all-trades – had never done tile before! So I guess I’ve found Lawrence’s Achilles’ heel.

And on the Seventh Day

… she went back to her day job. And was glad to do it.

I know we skipped a few days there. Sorry. Days five and six are a complete blur. I have so many things to show you and stories to tell you. I’ll apologize now as I know very little of what’s going on with the rest of you. My Google Reader has an obscene amount of information waiting for me!

Right now, here are a few shots of the new bathroom tile! Mind you, it’s not completely grouted yet. You can see how in front of the sink is and around the sink and behind the commode is not. (That’s a whole ‘nother story.) And, one of the tiles must have popped free in the grouting process and repositioned itself in an odd way. Not sure if it’s visible in these shots, but it’s weird to see in person.



But then, you didn’t even know the floor was down, did you? You do now! I have to say I love it but d*mn. What a lot of work. And it’s not even done yet. ( I know you aren’t really supposed to go back and grout in sections on a different day but the grout story to come will explain why this was necessary. I did my best to make sure that the entry, access to the toilet and to the sink were filled in before my grout finally said “F you.”)

My intro to porcelain tile was quite memorable to say the least so there’s a great story or two on that alone.

But grouting? Grouting, in a word, sucks. Big time. Apparently, I also suck at it. And black grout? If it’s worse than black grout, then you’ll never see me try it. That’s all I know and that’s all I need to about tiling.

I’m kind of disappointed that it’s not done for the big “mother reveal” tonight, but I really did do my best. And, in two words, I’m exhausted. The good news for those of you who are clamoring for photos is that I’ll get some tonight once the house is as good as I can get it before I have to head for the airport. (Initially, I was not thrilled by the late evening arrival. Now I’m happier than hell about it!)

So, thanks for hanging in there with me. Hope it will be worth the wait.