Saturday, November 12, 2011

Long overdue update

I haven't updated the blog lately because I've been busy with a lot of other things, plus didn't really have much of anything noteworthy to journal by itself.

I did get a new heat pump installed last month and am very pleased with the equipment as well as the company who performed the work.  The listing agent for my home referred me to his personal HVAC contractor, S.A. Sloop Heating and Air out of Landis, NC.  For a nice Trane system, a lot of new ductwork and thermostat, their price was right at what another company had quoted for a contractor-grade system with no new ducts, plus I would have had to do some of the work myself.  Sloop sent out two guys who worked for eight full hours mostly in the musty, dusty crawlspace.  When all was complete, I had a nice electric heat pump with a ten-year parts and labor warranty plus a free one-year general maintenance/start-up agreement.  Also, the workers left nothing behind except the old unit, which I asked them to leave and plan on taking to the scrap yard.  It was as if no one had been there.  Not one speck of garbage anywhere they had worked.  Additionally, they were such generally nice and polite guys all around that I fixed lunch and dessert for them.  They deserved it as hard as they had worked even before noon had rolled around.  This is a great HVAC system with quiet operation.  No more loud oil furnace.  No more soot getting blown all over the house.  No more having the house smelling like the engine of a '63 Buick.  I do find it ironic, though, that I hired a boat to put in a train.  (Get it?  Sloop = boat?  Trane = train?)

There was a period where I got tired of patching the plaster, so I moved on.  This is the beauty of working on my own house; if I get bored, there are plenty of other things to do until I want to go back and work on the other thing I started.  In late September with the impending falling of the leaves, there had to be something done with the gutters.  As you can see from the picture of the house on the home page, all the trees are very large and several loom over the roof.  Without a gutter guard, during autumn I would estimate the gutters would have to be cleaned out once per week.  I researched and found a gutter guard that is awesome.  I needed one that didn't have a top grate or screen because willow oak trees have very narrow leaves, similar to those of an ash tree, and tiny acorns that would catch in the mesh.  I definitely can't afford Gutter Guard (ever priced them?!  sheesh.).  What I found is manufactured by Amerimax and sold at Lowes Home Improvement for around $4.75 per 4' section.  It's a solid vinyl cover that operates on the same principle as Gutter Guard.  Here's a photo:

The wide part slides under the first course of shingles, with the narrow part clipping onto the front lip of the gutter.  Installation was simple and went quickly once I got the hang of it.  All you need are tin snips (the vinyl is thick and basically impossible to cut with a utility knife), a measuring tape, a straight edge and a pencil.  Two warnings:  there is a score-line approximately 1" behind the drainage slots.  This is so the installer can bend the guard according to roof pitch, so the rainwater will be directed into the channels and not shoot over the entire guard.  I'm sure these panels were made to be installed by a professional with an aluminum brake.  Bending them by hand is extremely difficult and fairly painful on the wrists and fingers.  My left thumb is still achy/touchy in the main joint.  The other warning is that once the guard is in place, it's almost impossible to remove.  Once removed and put back into place, it doesn't retain its same shape to confirm to the gutter lip and will have to be fastened down with a small sheet metal screw.  I'm pleased with the guards' performance thus far.  I have such an overabundance of leaves on all sides of the house that they do tend to stack up on top of the guard, but not in the drainage channels.  It's a lot easier to get a few steps up onto the ladder and use a long-handled broom to occasionally brush off the leaves than it is to climb all the way up there and scoop out the debris.

The plaster repair and drywalling is back in play now.  My initial plan was to go room-by room but there was a place in the kitchen that needed immediate attention.  In a previous post, you can see a chimney that goes between two sets of cabinets.  Instead of leaving the exposed brick, someone applied what appears to be a sort of grey, portland cement-based coating overthe brick, and it's on there thick.  I've never seen anything like it.  Over that, there had been a coat or two of paint, then someone stuck contact paper over that, followed by two or more coats of paint.  There were spots where the cement junk was exposed, and it was powdery and crumbly and probably had lots of yummy asbestos in it.  Other spots had missing contact paper or else bubbly areas where it wouldn't adhere to whatever was underneath.  All over it was a big ol' airborne toxin nightmare and I had to sweep and wipe down the floors and counters more than once daily because of fallen chips and powder.  The old flue cover (the kind that looks like an inverted paper plate) above the cabinet had long broken, thus leaving a hole partially behind the upper cabinet since whoever built/installed the cabinet didn't securely seal off the opening and just put the cabinet about halfway up the paper-plate-thingy.  Other than incoming drafts, I wasn't concerned until I learned the oil furnace as well as the new unit vented out through that chimney.  No wonder the kitchen was especially sooty and smelled of old oil.  I also can't imagine the health hazard that must've posed.  I sealed off and caulked the flue hole, and encapsulated the entire chimney with 3/8" sheetrock, fastened by using a masonry bit to drill into the brick and using TapCon screws.   All cracks will be caulked to help prevent lead dust from escaping.  Not only does it already look vastly better without even being complete, but what a relief not having to clean up paint chips.

Work on the living room plaster cracks has resumed.  I'd like to be able to finish the two remaining ceiling-to-wall corner beads by Monday afternoon., including all sanding.  Yesterday, I got all suited up for sanding.  With the exception of maybe an hour and a half gap of running an errand, I worked from 4:30 to a little after 10pm.  After the first session, I vacuumed up all the dust.  Returning from the errand, I got a second wind and decided to work some more.  That round created a worse dust mess than the first but I was so tired, I left everything as-is.  I figured I'll clean it up this afternoon since it would have more time to settle.  All the mud used in the living room up to this point was the pink kind previously mentioned.  The new kind, like was used in the kitchen, has an easier to clean up dust formula and it really does work. It's a "heavier" dust and tends to clump together and fall straight down instead of poofing all over everything.  Never again will I use regular or the pink drywall compound.  This stuff is great.

Here's some pictures of the current disaster, including an extra sexy one of me in my sanding gear.  Brian stayed in another room since he didn't need to breathe the dust and I doubt I could find a tiny respirator for him.  As soon as I opened the door, he ran in and wanted to make a blanket nest but I stopped him after the photos and we went to another room for rest of the evening.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

At this rate, I may not need heat.

By the title, I mean that the more estimates I've gotten on having electric heat installed, the more frustrated I've become.

When I start thinking about the experience in general, my face starts to flush and I feel overly warm but not in a good way.  Not in the "anticipated gift" sort of way but maybe more in the "I just totaled my car" category.

While my budget would reflect on the "utilities" side that the effects of getting this flustered may be a great way to save on heating bills, my "medical expenses" side would soar due to doctor visits for high blood pressure and stress.

All I want is for the oil-fired furnace to go away and be replaced with an electric one before cold weather approaches.  No spending almost $4/gal for heating oil with probably a 100 gallon minimum purchase; no more black sooty junk blown all over the house; no having the house smell like an old auto repair shop; no worries about carbon monoxide spewing forth as I sleep (yes, I have a detector).

Having previously held an HVAC certification, most of the time I have a good idea what needs to be done to my heat and air.  It's been nine years since my certification but I do remember some things.  I also have a sense for someone feeding me a line when it comes to home repairs. 

Three companies responded to estimate the furnace replacement.  Here's what happened:

Company #1 visited on August 17th.  I had chosen them because they serviced the system for the previous homeowner and did the HVAC inspection prior to my purchasing the home.  This time they didn't send out the servicemen; they sent an estimator.  Older guy, starched shirt, creased khakis; definitely not dressed to go under a house nor get dirty.  And he whistled.  All the time.  I purely detest whistling so this immediately went over huge with me.  I figured I could put up with it since he wouldn't be an installer.  He whisked in and out and quoted a low quality, contractor-grade system and recommended replacing some of the ductwork.  Estimate $5,600

Company #2 came out the next day.  They've done work for friends and a small repair for me on another home and performed a second opinion inspection on the furnace.  I felt the technician was inexperienced and somewhat dishonest.  He overemphasized eye contact when talking, excessively said "ma'am," "believe me," or "you can trust me on that."  Despite that, I called them to potentially take on a costly job based on my friends' positive experiences.  Lucky me:  they sent The Ma'am-er again.  He berated Company #1 at every opportunity, buzz-word/phrased me to death again, and convinced me after only a few minutes that I regretted calling.  He recommended a mid-grade, name brand system and replacing no ductwork.  Estimate:  $5,500

Company #3 came over September 8.  This is a large company.  I'd hesitated to contact a well-advertised business because I figure expenses for billboards, TV ads, etc. are passed on to the customer .  The estimator was knowledgable and asked pertinent questions.  After writing his estimate, he immediately tried to sell me an in-system air cleaning device and some other fancy option (which could be added to my new system at an additional cost, of course), before he even began to discuss the unit replacement.  Then he laid the paperwork in front of me:  almost $10,500.  He said there would be an additional $450 (!!!!!!) to run the electrical line for back-up heat, and I politely marched him right back under the house where we'd already been and showed him it's an existing line and was installed April 2011.  The estimate included all new ductwork and a ten-year warranty on parts, labor and equipment  The other companies' varied from one to three years.  I showed this estimator the other two quotes, one of which was for the same unit he just priced, and he went outside to call his boss to "see what they could do."  He came back in to say they would reduce the warranty terms and use my existing ductwork, making a nominal difference in the bottom line.  Funny, though, when I told him I wouldn't be using their 18.9% financing, he said he had to go back and look at something under the house and returned to say they would have to use all new ducting because new air handlers are about 1' taller than the old.  Therefore, the quote went back to around $9,000 with the reduced warranties.  I didn't realize that the size of an item could change based on the perceived size of my checkbook.  I don't want to say the name of the company, but let's just say there are two brothers who do the advertisements.

I thought it was odd that the companies who said they could use the existing ductwork said nothing about cleaning it nor the potential difference in air handler size.  I haven't shopped for this type of equipment in a long time so I don't know the dimensions, nor if they could vary with manufacturers.

Prior to these appointments, I had called another major company in this area but was turned off almost immediately.  I was put on hold for a really long time and transferred two times for a person who could help me, only to reach a voice mail where I left a message.  I speak very clearly and, if anything, get accused of over-enunciating.  For whatever reason on callback, my phone didn't ring but went to voicemail.  When I checked, there was a message:  "Hi, Tracy, this is Anne calling you back about a quote.  You may return the call to my direct line at (phone number)."  First off, my name isn't Tracy.  Thinking she may have left a message on my phone intended for someone else, I called her.  Here's how that went:

Anne:  "This is Anne."
Me:  "Hello, Anne.  I'm returning a call you had placed to someone named Tracy."
Anne:  "Your name isn't Tracy?"
Me, seeing where this was going:  "No it isn't."
Anne:  "Your name isn't 'Tracy Ingram?'"
Me:  "No.  It's (very clearly and slowly stating my name)."

Anne immediately bursts into laughter.  Not the sheepish "oh gosh I'm sorry" giggle but the "OMG I can't breathe this is so funny" loud, gut-busting rude laughter and there was no indication she was going to stop anytime soon to offer a professional apology for her error.  While she was laughing, I responded:  "You know what?  Nevermind.  Disregard the phone call and don't bother calling me back" and I hung up.  I figured if this is the impression I get from two phone calls, chances are they are so big that customer service is not terribly important to them anymore and they don't need my paltry few thousand dollars.

There is another company coming out Friday afternoon, and I plan on calling one more.  Considering the amount of money that may be spent, I don't mind the inconvenience of extra appointments.

$4/gallon heating oil is becoming more attractive by the phone call.  And, I hear that black soot is all the rage this year in home decor.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Frugality is my normality.

After having very quickly used up the last gallon of pink drywall compound, and realizing I'd use about two gallons per room from this point forward, I decided to look for a less-expensive alternative.  (I don't like the word cheap because it implies low quality.)  Shopping online at Home Depot, I found a product made by Sheetrock that's not only bubble-resistant but low dust!  It's formulated so that when sanded, the tiny particles don't remain airborne to settle at will, but tend to bind together so they fall straight to the ground for vacuuming.  This makes for a cleaner dust mask and goggles and a much easier clean-up.  Regular drywall dust is like an ex-husband; you think you've totally gotten rid of it but every now and again you still find an aggravating trace.  If most ex-husbands fell straight to the ground and all traces got vacuumed away, life would be much less complicated.  Maybe the court system should work on that.


The Sheetrock mud is great thus far.  I haven't done any sanding to advise on its magical dust properties but I do like its workability.  The only drawback is having to work very, very quickly after it's spread.  It doesn't like being smoothed over too many times nor bothered after it's set for over a minute or so. The consistency at that point is somewhat akin to white, solid, underarm deodorant:  kind of crumbly and powdery.  If you realize a minor mis-swipe too late, deal with it after the coat has fully dried.

A huge difference between the DAP pink stuff and the new Sheetrock stuff is price.  DAP is $15 per gallon.  Sheetrock is $14 for three and a half gallons.  That's my kind of shopping!

I'm still pleased with the metal inside corners.  They provide such a nice, uniform look for only around $2.80 per 8' section.  No worries with accidentally cutting through paper tape when applying the first coat of mud.  I also won't have to look up years later to see a repaired paper corner that's cracked through again.  It's easy to see why some of the newer and less-experienced drywall contractors are flocking to buy them.  It's also understandable why some of the old-schoolers are scooping them up because someone experienced could absolutely fly through a house by using these things.

I'm almost done now with the living room plaster repair and am so relieved.  It's definitely the worst in both the number and severity of cracks.  A downfall is that all the other rooms have one or two cracks that go totally across the ceiling and those are the ones I hate the most.  A walkboard system would make things quicker and smoother but they are very expensive to buy and almost as bad to rent.  I'm stuck working off a stepladder and can only work in about a two-foot length before getting down to move the ladder forward.

I'll post pictures of the living room repairs after they're sanded.  Sitting back and taking a look at all the blotches reminds me of being little and getting dotted with Calamine lotion after unfortunate poison oak/ivy contact.  You know it looks ugly for now but everything will soon be better.

Here's a picture of the boy last week at Lowe's.  He loves going since there's lots to look at and he gets extra attention from other shoppers.  I always put a blanket in the child seat part of the cart so his butt doesn't squish through the leg holes.  Of all the shopping trips he's ever made, this was the first one where he burrowed down into the blanket and made himself all comfy.  I guess he figured it's just as easy lying down and observing than expending extra energy by sitting.  I told him that people were laughing at him but he didn't seem to care.  He really did look cute.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Absolutely NOT tickled pink.

I know I've mentioned that I hate doing drywall work.  Unfortunately, it's a necessary evil when you do contracting work for other people.  Now, it's a necessary evil in my own home as I continue to patch and fill plaster cracks.  Some of the wall-to-ceiling ones are pretty bad, so I tried the paper-covered metal inside corner pieces for extra reinforcement.  They're cheap; $2.21 for an 8' section.  The downfall is that they're at a perfect 90deg angle and no corner is ever perfect.  I had to very slightly flatten the pieces a little to take out some of the angle, then they worked great.  I like the stability of metal and not having to be so gentle with the top coats of mud to avoid tearing plain folded paper.  They also don't move when a trowel is dragged down them, like paper ones can sometimes do with a difficult first coat.

Wednesday I went to Lowe's to get the corner pieces, a 4" trowel and a bucket of drywall mud.  I don't like the typical $10 five-gallon bucket contractor mix because it can get a lot of bubbles in it as it dries.  I like DAP Premium but it's $14 per gallon.  It's worth it.  It's creamier, less bubble-prone, and dries more uniformly.  Plus, it's pink when applied and turns white when it's dry so there's no guesswork.  Thursday I opened the new bucket to dump the contents into my empty square bucket I like better.  Something didn't look right. It was bright and almost fluorescent pink; not the bubble-gum color that's the norm.  I turned over the container expecting it to pour out.  It didn't.  I sat it, upside down, inside the square bucket, hit it on the bottom a couple of times, and out slid one big pink glop that retained the shape of its container.  I called DAP to see if they'd changed its formula to require thinning.  The guy said no, it sounds to be too dry and asked for the numbers from the lid to see if there may have been a bad batch run he could trace.  Here's the rest of conversation:

DAP:  On top of the lid there should be a sticker with, or just a series of numbers, stamped on. Give me those, please.
Me:  11194.
DAP:  11194?  Is there a sixth number?
Me:  No; just five.  It's clearly stamped; no smudges or anything.
DAP:  Hmmmm.  You're sure?
Me.  Yes, why?
DAP:  Because here's how you read those numbers.  The first number is the plant number, 1.  The second number is the year of manufacture, also a 1.  The third number is the month, the fourth is the day and the fifth is the batch number. 
Me:  So, the 1 means 2011 like if there was a 0 it would mean 2010?
DAP:  No, the 1 means 2001.  It was made in plant 1, January 9, 2001 and it's batch 4.  When did you buy it?
Me:  Yesterday.

Trust me, I was not happy. Especially since this Lowe's is about 15mi from my house and the problem was discovered late afternoon when I'd get stuck in school and work traffic.  So my work for the rest of the day came to an unexpected halt.  It'll be returned where I bought it as I'm not going to stick a good store with another's lame mistake.  There's a large event going on through the weekend that backs up traffic for miles in every direction near the offending Lowe's so as soon as it's over, I'll be going back with my fossilized construction material and an equally dry attitude.

UPDATE:  I returned the dried out drywall compound last night, and asked to speak to a manager so this wouldn't happen to anyone else.  I showed him the top of the container and explained what the DAP representative told me about reading the code.  He was as flabbergasted as I was as to how something over ten years old would still be on the shelf.  We walked over to the remaining stock and found two more containers with the same series of numbers and only one that was current.  He had no explanation, but I really didn't expect one since neither of us knew the product was expired.  I've always appreciated Lowe's for their customer service, but was really blown away when I took the new container of compound and a putty knife to the register and was told there would be no charge for either because of the mistake and inconvenience.  I went into the store somewhat expecting a disagreement, since a lot of stores treat returns as if they're the customer's problem and not necessarily a faulty or incorrect product.  I left the store a very satisfied customer, glad there are still a few businesses left in the "big box" sector that know how to cultivate their business in a positive manner.  DAP, however, should be more customer and retailer friendly by putting dates that are not encrypted on their containers. 

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Git The Crambaby Sauce!

I can never think of cranberry sauce without thinking of one of my best friends from high school.  His niece was really young at the time and couldn't pronounce cranberry so she called it crambaby sauce.  Kind of gross if you try to visualize it in a literal sense.

At 4:15 yesterday afternoon, I caught a glimpse out the sunroom windows of something moving in the neighbor's back yard, near the pond.  Moving closer to the windows to get a better look, I counted around a dozen wild turkeys.  They were large and healthy-looking.  Feathers all in place and walking proudly.  Most of the ones that hang around my mother's house are smaller and often have disheveled feathers so it was nice to see this rather Audubon Society-esque scene right at my own back yard.  Not wanting to spook them, I quietly stepped outside to get a quick photo, but this is the best one I could get.  My cell phone camera is awful, plus they started cautiously easing into the woodline as they heard the dry grass under my feet.

If you squint, cock your head slightly, and bite your tongue just right, you might be able to see the turkeys I circled.

And, so I don't get chased down by some turkey rights organization, I am not going to hurt them.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Oh, Deer.

Whatever did deer do for food before discovering vegetable gardens?

A few days ago, I made the daily visit to the garden after work to pick whatever was ready.  I was shocked to see the purple hull pea plans had pretty much been "topped."  Several plants around the perimeter of the bed had all the top leaves missing.  The stems were still intact, but no leaves.  My immediate thought was to look for a worm.  Tomato hornworms can do very serious damage in a very short amount of time, but I was baffled because peas aren't something they attack, and it's too late in the year for them.  My second thought was, "Did I miss this yesterday?" Then it hit me:  DEER.  I'd been fortunate thus far to not have them bother anything.  I've seen them next door and suspected they probably stayed close by as the area is heavily wooded and there's a pond behind my house.  Growing up in the country does have its advantages; one being that you learn remedies to repel deer and other animals detrimental to a garden's well-being (except voles...don't have those in Tennessee).  Here are some of the more well-known ones and you can see why we never tried most of them:

1)  Break eggs and pour them around.  Brian would love this remedy.  Go out to potty and get a free snack.

2)  Human urine.  Nothing like eating food you're not totally sure pee hasn't touched.

3)  Human hair.  Just what I want.  Barber shop clippings from unknown nappy heads in with my vegetables.

4)  Coyote urine.  Because this is so easily available.  I'll check Harris Teeter.  Again, the pee factor.

5)  Ammonia-soaked rags.  At least I won't faint while weeding.

6)  Smelly socks.  Great dietary aid.  Walk into where food's growing and smell a locker room, instead.

My grandfather had tried many pest deterrents, but the most effective and long-lasting was strong bar soap.  Irish Spring was the soap of choice with its pungent smell.  He'd cut a bar in several pieces, put each piece in a small tied-up section of pantyhose leg, and hang them from stakes placed around the perimeter of the garden.  Even the gentlest breezes would circulate the scent.  They lasted well through rains, and rain actually helped renew the aroma.  I've used soap to help protect tulips and other precious plants that deer love, and it works miraculously well.  Unfortunately, when I discovered the pea massacre I didn't have any Irish Spring just lying around and was too lazy to drive and get some.  Moth balls work fairly well for most animals, so I laid out a few around the pea bed.  The next day, there was more damage to the peas and the beginning of the munchies on the lima beans.  I picked up the moth balls from the ground, thinking the scent must not be able to permeate the air, and hung them in a couple of old onion and potato bags.  The following day brought, "Now they're just mocking me."  They had hit both beds all around the moth ball bags.  I had stopped on the way home and got a six pack:  of Irish Spring.  I quartered two bars and cut some thin scrap fabric into squares, placing a piece of soap in the middle of each.  I loosely tied each bundle with tomato twine and hung them around the deer buffet.  It's still dark outside when I leave in the mornings for work, so I couldn't look today to see if they'd been back.

With the sheer sarcasm the deer displayed with the moth ball bags, they probably took the soap and used it to take a bath in the pond.  Complete with a tiny washcloth.

The one on the far left is singing Ernie's "Rubber Ducky" song from Sesame Street.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Say No to Crack

In my last post, I'd mentioned maybe fixing the plaster cracks on my next day off.  That didn't happen.  I got sidetracked on stripping the narrow moulding that goes around the double doors.  Even though I had to strip through five thick layers of paint on tedious millwork and was outside for hours in 90deg weather, I enjoyed it more than what was planned.  I could have endured my shoulder surgeries without anesthesia and had a better time than doing anything that involves drywall or plaster.  Painting is high on the list of things I hate doing but using joint compound ranks higher on the hatred scale.  The only conclusion I can draw to explain my almost irrational abhorrence for both is I am such a perfectionist when it comes to that type of work because it's so visible.  I'd sat in the house since completing the partial bathroom make-over, many days not wanting to work on anything since I didn't have the money to start on what I wanted rather fixing what I could with what I already had.  Practicality and boredom eventually took over and, part of Wednesday and yesterday, the crack repair began in the living room.  It's not terribly difficult; just time-consuming and messy.  Some of the cracks are fairly large, as you can see in the photos.  The smaller or hairline cracks have to be cut a little wider with a utility knife to give the mud more room to "take" and that leaves dust and crumbles everywhere.  Self-adhesive fiberglass tape is used in place of paper tape, as it is stronger and less likely to tear or split if the plaster shifts again.  The first coat of mud is applied, and seeps through to fill the gap .  Thus far, there have been around 25 first-coat patches with five more to go, not counting the corners and the ceiling one that goes the full-length of the room.  I also mudded the build-in gaps around the double doors that were installed a couple of months ago.  (On a side note, the moulding stripped wonderfully and looks very nice reassembled onto its counterparts around the door.) Every inside corner, including wall-to-ceiling, has to be repaired.  Those especially test my patience and I'm sure some things will be said that will slick back Brian's ears.  I think, for the corners, I'll get the metal reinforced tape to help form a solid and smooth foundation.  They are now somewhat irregular and uneven so trying to use folded paper tape (can't fold the fiberglass kind) may result in my spontaneous combustion.  After all the first coats are done, I'll start on the second.  It's easier, then, to keep up with what I've done and encourage me to keep moving forward.  The difference in the way the room looks already is pretty amazing.  My plan is do all the plaster repair throughout the house prior to painting.  For one, it's cheaper and secondly, it keeps me focused on one task.  Here are a couple of pictures.  One darker one, where the wall is half green, is where a built-in bookcase sat.  There were several cracks and holes behind there.  The corner one has yet to be fixed.  Both are examples of the typical cracks I've been filling throughout the room.  I'll post "after" pictures when they're all finished.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Purple Pea-ple

Finally!  Something else ready to pick that seems to be healthy.  I checked on the purple hull peas I'd been eyeballing ever since they started to grow, patiently waiting for them to turn the exact perfect shade of deep purple.  As there are only maybe twelve plants, I know I won't get massive amounts, but I'll just be happy to get enough for a good meal or two.  Today I picked about twenty to twenty-five pods and, when shelled, almost filled a cereal bowl.  They're in the freezer now, awaiting more of their friends to make enough to cook for dinner.  When I was little, I used to help my mother pick and shell peas; bushels of them.  What I didn't remember about that experience was this:
World's most expensive Boston butt in the background
Purple fingers!

It didn't wash off with a regular hand washing, but it came off when I did the dishes.  Thank goodness.  People at work think I'm odd enough already without wondering if I'm morphing into Grimace or Barney.

The past few days I've been looking around the house and am beginning to get inspired to start working on it again.  I can't decide if I want to start patching plaster cracks (I despise drywall work) or ripping up the kitchen floor.  The kitchen floor has about 1/4" particle board topped with gen-u-ine asbestos-laden linoleum and God only knows what else lurks in there.  But, it's over the original hardwood floor.  I pulled up about a 1.5' x 1.5' piece of the particle board a while back to snoop, knowing that the floor definitely couldn't be made 1/2" to 3/4" thicker by putting down tile over everything already there.  The hardwood doesn't look too bad in that small square.  If there's a large area in poor shape, it will get the same tile as the bathroom floor since that was my first plan.  It's a big decision; tile is kind of permanent and if you've ever had to tear any out, you'd never want to do it again.  Whatever I choose is the way it will be for as long as I live here.  At this point all I can do is the tear-out, which has to be done regardless of keeping the hardwood or tiling.  I'm very short on cash and wouldn't be able to go ahead with the whole job, including re-working a cabinet to accomodate an 18" dishwasher (courtesy of my mommy 'cause that's how she rolls).  I refuse to buy a new cabinet base, instead choosing to re-work the existing one.  I'll also build and tile a new countertop and get the sink reglazed since it's one of those neat ones with the built-in drain board and probably weighs 150lbs.  Keeping and refurbishing an old kitchen is trickier than starting anew but anyone that's had kitchen work done will tell you two things right off the bat:  1)  it's expensive, even if you do it yourself.  2)  it's highly inconveniencing no matter who does the work.  Kitchens aren't really something that can easily be done bits at a time and keep your sanity, especially when you're an organization freak like me.

I think my decision has been made.  It looks like the plaster cracks are getting first dibs.

Hello HEPA filter vacuum, plastic vapor barriers, and a respirator.  Goodbye crackety-cracked walls, restful days off and evenings, and a halfway decent manicure.

Monday, August 1, 2011


I figured Dogstar was an appropriate title since it's another name for Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky.  Brian's "sirius-ly" the brightest star in my own personal sky. 
He was chosen to be the featured Boston on the blog "Coffee with a Canine."  My boy's international now!  The blogger has dogs on there from all over the world.  It makes me feel like he's even more special than I already knew.
Thought you all might want to see.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Cuisine, Condensation and Canine


Haven't updated in a while because of the Canine.  But, I'll get to that.

The garden is doing as well as it can, considering the weather's been hotter than Satan's furnace these days.  I'm having to water the vegetables at least every other day, but the flowers and the new beautyberry bush are having to get a daily dose since they're not yet established.  It looks like there will be a small veggie yield all around, and smaller than usual plants.  Thus far, I've gotten enough of the Japanese eggplant to make only a loaf pan-sized dish of eggplant parmesan, but the "regular" eggplant is coming along okay and that should be enough for more yummy entrees plus some baba ganoush.  There aren't nearly as many tomatoes as I'd hoped for juicing, so I might be able to make ten or fewer jars this year.  The bell peppers have a tough skin that's not very tasty, too.  The squashes have tons of blooms, as do the beans and okra, so I'm keeping my hopes up that they'll produce a decent amount.  The corn is only about as as tall as I am, but has ears almost ready to be picked so they're small and I'm afraid they'll be empty when shucked.  We'll see.  Bit of a disappointment for the first garden I've had in several years but hey, there's nothing I can do about the weather.  Update:  I only made three pints of tomato juice last night (the day of this post).....*sigh*....and I don't think there will be many more.

I spent part of one of my days off this week under the house working on the air conditioner.  The house had started to smell a bit musty so I went to see if some of the recent storms had flooded the crawlspace.  There was about 1/2" of standing water but it was immediately apparent that it wasn't from a storm since the majority was around the air handler.  I knew from experience that meant a stopped-up condensation line.  Hearing the water drip inside the unit and seeing nothing coming out of the line outside confirmed it.  I cut and disconnected the line from the unit and flushed out the sludge from the drip pan and line, and made some modifications prior to the reconnection.  Since there were four or five couplings where every time someone has had to remove the line they've had to cut it and put it back together, I put in a union so that in the future, all I have to do is unscrew the connection instead of cutting the line to unscrew it from the unit.  I also installed T with a plug about 3' out from the unit, so that when I'm home I can unscrew the plug and capture the condensation into a bucket to use for watering plants because the line's too close to the ground outside to sit anything under.  I'm cheap, I know.

Brian can't vole hunt anymore.  He had to have surgery on July 6 on his neck, so digging is out of his future for good.  It was a terribly scary time for me to see him go in two days time from a healthy and happy dog to having a life-threatening condition.  He was diagnosed as having Canine Intervertebral Disc Disease (link to explain:  Veterinary neurologists Drs. Bergman and Brofmann at Carolina Veterinary Specialists in Matthews, NC performed the surgery and I couldn't be more pleased.  As much as I really really hate Charlotte, I was fortunate to have been close to a major city when Brian fell ill because there were only two veterinary neurologists between Atlanta and Raleigh, and they were both at the Matthews office.  Dr. Brofmann has since relocated to Charleston, but at least Dr. Bergman remains.  It was rough on me when I first went to pick up Brian after almost a week in the hospital, seeing what a large incision (about 3.5" long and 11 staples) he had and how badly he was bruised but it's amazing how much better he seemed to feel despite his appearance.  We were so happy to see each other!  Brian, my little buddy, the true light of my life and honestly the center of my heart, is making great strides in his recovery with plenty of pampering and a few lifestyle changes.  He's not supposed to do much (if any) jumping, so he can't sleep on my bed anymore.  He now has his own "big boy" orthopedic bed from that's beside mine and he's adjusting fine.  Honestly, I think it's harder on me than him to not have him snuggled up to me while I'm sleeping.  I also purchased two sets of Pet Gear steps from Wal-Mart (their prices were way better than other companies for the exact same product) for him to use for the sofa and loveseat and he looks really cute going up and down them.  What was originally a 5-15% chance of survival at the time of diagnosis will now be a 95-98% recovery.  He's getting a lot of encouragement and support (physical and financial) along the way from friends, relatives and especially, his mom.   She does love her granddog.

I'm so proud of how he's doing, and would do it all again if I had to.  Like Other Half said, he better live to be the world's oldest living Boston Terrier and make it to at least 80 or else I'll have to be committed.  I realized this morning that if Brian had a gang name, it could be Fi' G since his surgery and related expenses were right at $5,000.  He even has a gang sign that would look like this:

5-G, yo

Here's a picture of his incision and bruising when I brought him home, and how it looks now with the staples out.  He's got a really sexy scar now to show off his toughness.

Poor little buddy's bruising.  It was even in his armpits.

The Herman Munster style zipper

Almost all better!  No more staples!  Chest hair growing back!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Progress, in progress.

Things are going smoothly now after the cabinet fiasco.  I'm kind of glad it's out of there.  Now that I see how the overall look of the bathroom will be after the shower is built, I'm not so sure it would've fit the decor.

The bathroom's painted.  It took two coats of the Behr primer and two coats of the Eddie Bauer.  The Behr covered very well but just needed the extra coat for good measure.  I'm starting to suspect Ms. Laura's sister smoked.  That end of the house was hers.  I didn't suspect smoking since I didn't smell any residual odors but when I took down the cover to the exhaust fan, it was extra funky.  Yellow and all gummy and just nasty.  Anyway, the paint color turned out fantastic and was exactly what I had hoped; white with just a very feint hint of grey.  If you're ever using the Valspar Eddie Bauer paint, work quickly.  I'm no slacker but by the time I had cut in and gone back to start rolling, the roller started sticking to the brush strokes and it almost blistered.  It would've been better had I not cut in the whole room first, but did each wall at a time to keep it fresh.  This paint dries very quickly, and I still prefer Behr for consistency, coverage, and workability.

The antique medicine cabinet and sink are in place and the whole room looks amazing despite still having an ugly yellow fiberglass shower (I just shut the curtain and try not to acknowledge it).  For the sink, I chose to keep the original basin taps that came on it.  They appeared to be in good shape except for a small amount of pitting.  Plus, I didn't have the money to spend on a new faucet like I wanted, which basically looked like these, anyway.  I also used rigid supply lines and chrome piping for a more authentic look since flexible lines weren't available long ago.  Those details made a major difference, I think.  When I had initially tried the electrical connections on the medicine cabinet, nothing worked.  I bought two new starters for the ballasts and two new bulbs and now everything's good as new.  Without a doubt, that cabinet is the item that really ties the room together.  I texted my friend, Jeff, and told him I could never thank him enough for such a cool housewarming gift and sent him a photo of it, finally in its place after fifty-one years in a box.  Since it was in the original box I didn't want to destroy all the packing just for nostalgia's sake, so I saved the shipping label.  I also took a picture of the back of the sink where it's stamped with the date of manufacture.  I had to use a pencil and smudge it with my finger so the impression could be seen.  How nice it is to finally have a sink in there and not have to stick my hands in the shower to wash them!  I can't help but wonder if this is what the bathroom would've looked like, had it been a part of the original house and not an add-on.

Guess where I was sitting when I took this picture?  :-)

Sink date:  February 8, 1945

"Bin No. 11  Date:  2/5/60  Register No. 1755"
"From C.M. McClung & Co.  The Home of Honest Hardware"
"Just over at Knoxville Tennessee"
"To:  Wagner Hdw & (looks like 'F' and can't read the rest)"
"Statesville, NC"

Good luck getting warm water.  It's either hot or cold unless you swish your hands back and forth really fast.

Nurturin' my babies

The vegetable garden is doing great!  I've only lost three plants.  One tomato plant met its demise due to early blight and another was found broken over beyond repair.  A squash plant also broke and had to be thrown on the compost pile although I never compost tomato plants due to their disease-carrying propensities.  There are a ton of baby veggies forming, including tomatoes, eggplant and peppers and I can't wait for them to mature for harvest.  It's like eggplant parmesan in the embryonic stages.  The voles never made it into the vegetable beds, or at least not that I have seen and I have been extremely vigilant.  They never tripped any of the traps, but the Rozol bait has proven to be as palatable as is claimed.  A body count would be nice but just knowing they've nommed up their fate right from their own tunnel is satisfaction enough for me.  Brian's hunting trips to dig into their tunnels may have also helped repel them, and at least he and I like to think that's the case since he has such a fun time digging.  There have been fewer fresh tunnels seen and fewer flower losses since my attack began.  If you need Rozol, buy it up and buy it now because as soon as homeowner-accessible nurseries run out of it, they can't restock because its status has changed and will now only be available to people with a pesticide applicator's license.  Trust me, it does work. 

Disclaimer:  I covered each Rozol-baited tunnel with an upside down clay pot weighted down with a rock.  I didn't want anything that I didn't want dead to get into it, including squirrels, bunnies and BRIAN.  I don't like chemicals but had no other choice.

Purple coneflower

Chinese eggplant.  I have some of the regular variety, also.

Roma tomatoes

First the smell..........

then the dirt goes a'flyin'

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Blast from the past

One of Ms. Laura's nephews, Bernard, was the executor of her estate and one of the nicest guys you'd ever meet.  On the day of closing, he said he has a picture of the house on the day it was finished in 1937 and that I could have it.  I was thrilled!  Imagine how rare it would be to have someone provide the history of a 75 year-old home!  With photos!  Late yesterday afternoon, he called to ask if I would be home for a while and if he could stop by and bring the picture.  Coincidentally, yesterday was my birthday.  There's no way he would've known but he had just offered the best birthday present I could've possibly received.  I was stunned when I saw the photo!  I knew there had been three rooms, a carport and the front porch added on sometime after the initial construction, but had no idea how those changes really affected the overall appearance of the home I see today.  Bernard said that Laura and Ray were married in 1936 and began construction on the house, but that it wasn't finished until 1937.  He said there are many more pictures to be perused and he believes his cousin has them.  He also has Laura's and Ray's marriage license, so I asked if I could borrow it to make a copy.  I really don't want a lot of their photos and "artifacts" but I think a few would make interesting conversation pieces.  It's funny how the simplest things in life really can bring the most excitement. 

Sometimes, a change of scenery can really change your pace in life.  This change of moving back out to the country also brought with it the chance to meet good people and be a part of a great community.  I couldn't be happier.

Original house!

Caption on back of photo.  $1,800.00!!!!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The defiant cabinet

I've decided I'm not meant to finish this bathroom.  As in ever.  Each time I start on something, a problem arises.

Saturday I was feeling inspired and in a painting mood so I wanted to try the new primer I bought.  Being the Behr fan I am, in lieu of Kilz I bought their "Interior Enamel Undercoater Primer & Sealer No. 75."  It sounded impressive.  The can states:

"For use on all new and previously painted interior surfaces. Ideal over oil or water-based coatings, heavy stains and glossy surfaces. Provides maximum stain resistance by locking in stains. Creates a uniform finish with improved hiding, adhesion, flow and leveling. This 100% styrene acrylic latex primer is mildew-resistant and backed by a lifetime guarantee."

Perfect!  Exactly what I wanted!  I couldn't wait to get started to see if it would cover the yellowing.  Thus far, I've only done the cutting in, but it's just as white today as it was Saturday upon application.

The other Saturday incident is what prevented me from doing more than the cut-in.

There was (notice was) a wooden cabinet over the toilet.  Cute, little two door homemade wooden cabinet.  It isn't deep enough to hold linens but would do for other items not suitable for a medicine cabinet.  I didn't want to take it down and figured I'd paint the walls around it, and paint it white later.  Once I started cutting around the cabinet with the primer, it left a brush-stroke-like texture I despise seeing under an otherwise good roller job.  It seemed logical enough:  take down the cabinet, paint the walls, paint the cabinet while it's down, and rehang the cabinet when all is dry.  I got it loose from the wall and quickly realized that was a huge mistake.  Huge.  It was much heavier than anticipated, then only slightly dislodged from the wall and got stuck.  It had originally been built in-place in the 26" wide recessed toilet area and with the house settling, I couldn't get it out.  I could spin it downwards from top (tilt the top towards me) or upwards from the bottom (tilt the bottom towards me) but it's like there was an invisible spindle holding it tightly about 9" out from the wall at a highly unstable angle.  I couldn't even slide/push/force it back into place.  Praying that the laws of physics were on my side and it wouldn't fall and smash the toilet, I left it suspended while I reached for the hammer.  I knocked off the doors and side moulding but it made little difference.  I thought, "Congratulations.  Now it's partially disassembled and only 1" closer to being removed."  I finally got it out after having a temper tantrum since that's the only way I had enough strength to wrestle it.  I was so sweaty and out of breath and disgusted, I walked away and didn't even look at it again until the next day.  The sheetrock was torn all to Hell on both sides and had to be mudded in probably ten places where the wood corners scraped so badly.  The back wall, where the cabinet hung, had old, caked-on paint that traced the cabinet outline, so that had to be sanded and patched, and some of the corner paper joint had pulled loose over time and had to be re-mudded.  There is no way I'm going to modify the cabinet to put it back, since it has little practical use.  I think I'll find some vintage shelving to use for stacking linens, and find another use for the cabinet.

I'm going to give the whole priming job another try when I get off work today, and see what other minor catastrophe I can create.
Accidental smiley face created by trying paint samples above a drywall patch.  You can see the nice, white primer on the inside corner.

Ridiculously narrow toilet area.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

I'm going on a murderous rampage

The voles are still getting the best of me.  I've tried the castor oil repellant, and also have peanut butter & oatmeal baited traps set at four tunnel entrances.  It was just plain sarcasm on the vole's behalf for me to come home yesterday and find it had circumvented one of the traps and popped up a new hole about two inches from it, next to a bee balm, and ate over half the plant.  I've introduced Brian to the tunnels ("Look Brian!  Look!  Who's in there?  Who's in there?  Git it!") and let him dig as much as he wants to destroy them and hopefully help repel the voles with his scent.  He has great fun at it, plus it's highly amusing to watch him.  He throws dirt everywhere and looks so proud and satisfied when he's done.  I told Other Half that I wasted money buying a tiller when I could've used Brian, instead.  For a little guy, he sure can plow up some ground.

Anyone have ideas on how to help rid my place of these destructive nuisances?

Can't you just see the contempt & sarcasm on his hairy little face?
(This is a photo I stole from Google image.  Had I taken the photo, it would've had slightly more blood and guts on it at this point.)

Thursday, June 9, 2011

If you're going to have friends, make sure they're talented.

Admittedly, I'm not much on socializing.  There have been periods of my life where I was in the stay-out-until-3am crowd but as a whole, I've stayed to myself.  As I've gotten older, I've become more reserved and definitely more appreciative of the few friends I do keep close.  They're the kind that totally out of the blue can offer the most unique perspective on any given topic and know they can be completely blunt, and often harsh, with me and it won't be taken personally.  They're also the kind that have rare talents; the "lost arts" that are getting more obsure and obsolete by the day as people's lives become busier.  Two are gifted musicians, another can bake the most delectable treats (especially German faire), and my buddy Barb can knit or crochet anything she sets her mind to and can even come up with her own patterns or modify existing ones to suit the occasion.  And she's quick.  It's like her needles have their own Riverdance rhythm.  Like if hunmmingbirds could Riverdance.  She works a full-time job and can still crank out the most beautiful creations in nothing flat with the blinding flurry of her fingers.  When she found out I was buying an older home, she said that as a housewarming gift she would make me a doily of my choice and brought me a huge stack of needlework magazines to choose a pattern.  I decided on one that looked sturdy but still dainty, as I'd love it to last the rest of my life.  Two or three days later, she brought me two doilies, exactly as they had appeared in the magazine photo.  She was working on a similar, but more complicated one that is massive in the doily world.  It's probably thirty inches across.  I asked her what she was going to do with it and she said she didn't know, so I offered to buy it from her.  Again, two or three days later, I found it on my desk.  She refused to take payment and just told me "happy housewarming."  Now, if she could just crochet me a new shower and a two-car garage, I'd be in business............

One of the two smaller ones (maybe 12" across)

The mack daddy

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Yellow paint does not a happy Red make

Other Half calls me "Red."  This is a well known fact among his friends and family, some of whom have no idea of my real name.  They'll just ask him how Red's doing or if Red's going with him someplace, etc.  You get the picture.

Now my title makes more sense to you.  On to the story.

Trying to settle on paint colors for the master bathroom remodel wasn't easy.  For one, it's a tiny bathroom of about 35sf with no window.  I also wanted to stay true by using original 1930s colors.  Despite being a huge fan of Behr paint, they didn't have any collections I could use.  Eddie Bauer paints, Sherwin Williams, and California Paints offers historic colors by era/period.  I chose Eddie Bauer based on the wide color selection and ease of availability.  After choosing colors for the master bedroom and bath, I almost unknowingly made the mistake of painting them to match.   Other Half mentioned that he thought the colors would be too dark for such a tiny space.  Fortunately, I had only painted a small strip of color on the ceiling to see how it would look.  After further researching bathroom paint colors from the '30s, I found they are almost always white or a shade of white, even if other rooms are brightly colored.  Apparently, it has to do with presenting the image of cleanliness and sterility.  I regrouped and decided for the walls to use a white that has just the ever-so-faintest hint of grey in an eggshell finish, and to use Behr white ceiling paint.  I bought samples of Travertine and Gelato and painted about a one-foot square of each on the wall.  Both were too dark.  Next I tried Honeysuckle (just to see how a tan/white would look) and Oyster.  Oyster was exactly what I was looking for. 

When I did the drywall patches on the wall, the joint compound dried to a yellowy hue where it touched the existing paint, but stayed white on the new drywall.  This seemed odd, but I attributed it to the water content in the mud leeching something from the old paint.  Since this bathroom was constructed in 1984, I knew lead paint wasn't involved and the house never smelled of smoke so I wasn't concerned of nicotine stains.  Just as a good rule of thumb to prepare old walls for painting, everything had been washed about two weeks ago with a TSP solution.

Yesterday afternoon I was eager to get the ceiling done so I could continue with the walls.  It would make little sense to hang the sink and install the medicine cabinet without first painting.  Only the recessed toilet area and the sink wall will be painted now, waiting to do the rest until after the shower is built.  I cut in the ceiling, and about fifteen minutes later when I got the roller started, the cut-in was already yellowing.  I went ahead and painted the rest of the ceiling to see what would happen.  After drying, which should have been a brilliant, bright white, it was impossible to tell that I had just put on a fresh coat.  The ceiling was almost an ecru color.  There had been no patches done on the ceiling, so I was especially confused.  I went online and read a few articles, learned why the paint (both old and new) had yellowed and contacted Behr and Kilz to get further advice.  They both said to use Kilz Original if I didn't mind the paint thinner/mineral spirit clean-up, or to use Kilz Premium if I'd rather go the soap-and-water route, and to put a coat over what I did yesterday to seal in the old paint and any yellowing compounds.  I have a new gallon of Kilz Original, but will be swapping it for the Premium since I have no easy and safe method of disposing of the chemicals.  More time, more money.  Frustrating, but will all be worth it.  We'll see how it goes after priming.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Mares eat oats and does eat oats but little voles eat rudbeckia.

I'm learning the pitfalls of having lawn rodents.

I've never dealt with tunnelling rodents on such a large scale but the war has begun.  I'm not a big "grass person" and was kind of happy to think there were natural grub predators living on my property, thus hopefully wiping out the majority of Japanese beetles that could potentially destroy my vegetable plants and flowers.  Sadly, I was wrong thinking that I had moles.  I have voles.  Under one of the native beds ran multiple tunnels with several entrances, and I was sort-of okay with that when I thought it was moles.  When I first noticed them, the tunnels didn't lead directly under the plants so I wasn't concerned with root damage. 

Remember the Bugs Bunny cartoons when you can see a moving tunnel and watching carrots pop down into the hole as he's travelling along?  Twice now I've gone out to discover two of my biggest and happiest rudbeckias half gone, with a hole near the damage and the entire plant barely in place because of a root tunnel.  I immediately got the Bugs vision in my head, figuring that's what happened to my flowers as I slept.  A little online research has educated me that I have voles and not moles.  Yesterday, on that one bed, I sprayed on some castor oil repellent and watered it into the soil and will also try setting traps baited with peanut butter at the tunnel openings.  I don't like killing anything but I also don't like things killing my plants, either.  I'll see which one is more effective before going on to working on the pests in the front yard, as I have almost no grass there and joke about "mowing the dirt."  I don't want the little buggers moving onto another tastier part of the land. 

And, although I don't like the movie, I do have a better understanding of Caddyshack and the mole wars.

Please feel free to put me out of my misery if I start acting like Carl Spackler.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Good fences make good neighbors.....

but great people make great neighbors.

This post isn't about the house.  It's about something much more important; the people who live around me.  Here's the most recent example of the good side of human nature I've rediscovered since moving back out to the country.

Last night around 9:00, I went to put the 'Splorer under the carport.  I leave it out when I'm working outside so I have more room to move around at the back door.  Turned the  clickclickclick....clickityclickity....clickclickclick.  Nothing.  Engine didn't even try to crank.  Instrument panel black as coal.  Aside from being furious that there was yet another problem with a vehicle that only has 54,000 miles, I wasn't happy that rain is expected later today and my windows were down and the sunroof was open a bit.  I needed to get the car pushed under the carport to avoid damage from a thunderstorm or else one of the neighborhood stray cats (yet another pet {no pun intended} peeve:  irresponsible pet owners) jumping inside and peeing/spraying.  I could faintly hear the next-door neighbors outside enjoying the evening, since the earlier 96deg temperature had finally subsided.  In my pajamas, I shuffled over to see if they would mind helping us push the vehicle.  Instead, they came over with a charger of-a-thing and hooked it up and fiddled with all kinds of stuff to at least get the windows rolled up and the sunroof closed.  This morning I went out to try starting it again.  Still nothing, but the neighbors were out for their morning walk and came over again to see if we could get it going.  Thank goodness for my alternative mode of transportation, the z750/blue blur.  I popped out the starter relay switch from the 'Splorer, hopped on the bike and took off.  If that, a new battery and maybe replacing a faulty ignition switch doesn't fix the problem, a good sledgehammer might.

Despite a highly frustrating situation and being a couple of minutes late for work, I'm really not as irritated as I would've been had I still lived in the big city.  My neighbors not only took time out of their evening but also their morning routine to help me.  As we were parting ways last night, Other Half thanked them for coming over and said to them, "Hey that's something you don't find in (local big city name)" to which the husband replied, "You got that right.  That's exactly why we live out here."

'Nuff said.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Toad farm

I don't think I've ever seen so many toads on one piece of land.

It's not unusual (I swear I can never say that without thinking of Tom Jones) to see several at a time, just hanging out around the shed and carport.  There's a pond at the back of the property and lots of greenery and wooded area so I'm sure the toads have plenty of food and decided they'll just move in and stay a while.  Fine with me, although it's unnerving every time I pull into the driveway at night or else start to back up in the 'Splorer.  I always perform a toad check so I don't squish one.

There's this one I've labeled The Watchtoad.  He's (although I haven't performed a gender check) my workshop sentry.  He's a little smaller and browner than the rest, and is always near the door no matter day nor night.  Sometimes, he's perched on a small piece of concrete at the jamb and he doesn't seem afraid.  I shoo him away from the hinge side so I don't accidentally mush him.  Yesterday, he and two of his buddies were in the shed.  He was on a piece of wood and didn't move for over two hours and his friends were hanging out on the cool, damp concrete floor.  I laughed to Other Half when he came over and told him I had a Three Toad Shed.  Here's my buddy.  If you look closely, I think he's smiling.

Tomatoes, peppers and eggplants, oh my!

A trip to the farmers market in Winston-Salem earlier this month really didn't help my budget.  What began as "I'll just get a couple of tomato, pepper and eggplant plants for containers" turned into "holycrapican'tbelievehowcheaptheseplantsare" and thus I fell victim to a sensory overload and drove home with over two flats of vegetable plants plus another of my first batch of native flowers and foxgloves.  Other Half was there, too, so I try to place some of the blame on him for helping load up the flats as he also loves fresh veggies and gardening.  I didn't plan on having a garden this year due to time and budget constraints.  Lord knows there's enough to do inside the house.  However, I am weak before anything green, so I caved.  There were raised beds to be constructed out of salvaged and new wood, and soil to be tilled (and let me tell you, there is some amazing soil on my land).  I did have to add soil to fill the beds, some from other areas of the property where leaves had naturally composted plus more purchased at a local home center.  I didn't want to take the time to cultivate the soil by hand, partially because even though I started in early May, the temperatures were beginning to soar and the humidity was matching it.  Craigslist netted a good used 5hp tiller.  I could justify the purchase, as there are other areas where I could use it and gardening of some type will be ongoing for many years to come.  Now that I had the resources, I thought "Well, I'm into this now, might as well go ahead and finish it" so I picked up herb and vegetable seeds and have a ton of seedlings started.  The old workshop doubles perfectly as a garden shed, now that it's been cleaned out.  Roughly $500 later, I'm happy.  It's worth it.  It has been several years since I lived where I could have a garden, and all the memories and delights of watching the plants grow and anticipating the harvest has begun.

My babies!

The first few of probably ten beds.  Still have to till up and fill several more and move the empty frame.

This is the workshop before I cleaned it out.

This is my workshop/garden shed now!

Missing door mystery

There are several doors missing throughout the interior of the home.  It's not like they recently disappeared because there's a layer or two of paint where the hinges and strikeplate used to be.  The only one that makes sense is at the kitchen, as there were cabinets added at the entry point off the living room, so there would be no way to open the door.  The back bedroom is missing one of two, and I plan on finding a replacement.  But, the ones that bugged me the most were the double doors that should've been between the living and dining room.  I could envision a set of 15-lite ones, gracefully marking the dividing line.  I wondered if maybe they were split up and used for the utility room; one off the back bedroom and one off the sunroom but I saw no evidence of where a headbolt and footbolt would've been on either of them.  I scoured for weeks my trusty companion in remodeling, craigslist, and found the perfect replacement doors, even with beveled glass.  It was a pleasant surprise that the hardware was included, and I recently stumbled upon that the sets may be from between 1860-1905 by the Corbin Company and are the Ceylon design.  The doors were 1.5" narrower than I needed but for the price and their beauty, a build-in was no problem.  I made the adjustments to the door opening and hung the doors and they look great!  All I have left to do is strip some of the outer trim pieces on the moulding before I put them back up, fill in the gaps at the floor moulding, and paint everything.  The living and dining areas are starting look whole (and original) again.



Monday, May 30, 2011

Eng-hell-ish Ivy

When I started professionally landscaping about seven years ago, I learned the evils of English ivy.  Luckily, it never grew in places I lived and I only had to remove/kill it for other people.  One of the first things I noticed about my property when I was considering purchasing is the prolific amount of this foreign nuisance.  It's covering several trees, part of the side yard, and had begun trying to creep under the siding.  Even about 1/8 of the back of my property is so covered in it that some of the leaves are the size of my hand and it has blanketed the area to kudzu-like proportions.

borrowed from

 Now, I'm all about letting things grow and be happy and letting nature take its course.  However, when it comes to invasive plant species, I draw the battle lines.  I don't like chemicals but would be a huge advocate of aerial spraying of glyphosate if it could be targeted to only hit invasives.  The landscaping I once did professionally was focused on native plants, so that's what I decided to do at my new house with the exception of Foxgloves, my floral weakness.  The areas I've glyphosate-ed are still waiting to die, and I won't be able to do anything until next year both because of money and to let the area attempt to rest for a while.  In two spots small enough to manage manually, I've removed the ivy and planted new and more desirable annuals.  As I was pulling ivy from this particular spot, I had no idea there was that much driveway underneath.  The ivy was probably 3' out from the edges of the new bed.  As I was clearing, I kept finding all these big rocks that Ms. Laura must've used as flower bed edging.  This gave me the idea to reuse her items and make a raised bed of my own.  Through coincidence and Murphy's law, it took every last rock I found to create the bed.  The little girl statue was found in another part of the yard and it, too, was mostly covered in ivy.  She looks much cleaner and happier in her new space.  Here's one of the areas and a good close-up of a native.  See?  Natives don't have to equal weeds! 


The side yard, another ivy wasteland (and no, I'm not pregnant as my shadow would suggest).  This ivy has been mowed down and allowed to regrow to a small degree before I sprayed it. 

More natives, including rudbekia and lobelia.  This is where the foxgloves are, also.  Although not native, I didn't have the heart to remove the existing irises.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

I can see one of us is comfortable.

Brian is finally getting settled in.  It took him longer this move than any others we've done together.  Even after I had all my belongings moved in, he would still go to the door around 8-9pm each night for about two weeks.  I think he thought we were going back home.  Anytime I'm working on someone else's house and it's vacant, I always take him with me so he's accustomed to leaving in the evenings to return home.  Now, he's a happy boy.  He has a large yard to roam around, lots of sunshine for him to recharge in, and plenty of squirrels and birds to watch.  It's almost to the point where, if the sun's out, he'd rather be outside than in and will try to practice his independence by flopping over in the yard and refusing to come inside after going to potty.  I have to go pick him up, whereas he's turned into what my Other Half refers to as "hundred pound Brian" because he's on his back, dead weight, thinking I won't pick him up make him come in.  Another one of his new favorite things is to be rocked.  (I know, I know, he's horribly spoiled).  I started the rocking with him when I was rushing madly to get moved in and didn't feel like I was spending enough time with him so when I'd go outside to rest, he'd get in my lap and lie down.  The following pictures illustrate how rotten he really is.  He must think I bought him the world's largest dog house and a yard.  All for him.  If you look at the one where he's wallowing in my lap (yet another thing Other Half calls him:  wallerpuppy), you can see he is so asleep that his mouth is open.

Rotten dog

I swear I'm not a Boston Terrier decor hoarder....really....