Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Sparrows Falling?

We haven't had much rain in the Valleys since last Thursday, and conditions were getting dry. But late this afternoon, a strong line of thunderclouds streamed in from the west and looked sure to break. I closed my car windows, then noticed how sad my neighbors' hanging baskets were looking. They always unhook them and put them out on the sidewalk when it rains, and here they weren't at home to do it.

I knew they'd want to take advantage of the moisture. So I decided to do my neighbors a favor, and put the petunia baskets out myself. And this is what I found in one of them:

What to do? If I left the nest in the planter, the baby birds would likely drown. But the flowers needed the water.

So I picked the nest up, birdies and all, and put it in a sheltered position on the porch, leaving the planters on the sidewalk to drink.

The mother bird, a sparrow, came back during the worst of the storm, and couldn't find her brood. Since I don't speak Sparrow, I couldn't tell her her babies were safe on the porch floor.

After a half hour or so, I decided the petunias had had enough and, having carefully replaced the nest in the one, I rehung both baskets.

I can see the nest from my door, and so far, I haven't seen the mother bird back on it. This worries me! I know sparrows are a penny a dozen, and a lot of people consider them avian vermin. But if a sparrow (or a whole nest of baby sparrows) is effectively going to "fall," I'd rather it not be my fault!

Friday, June 22, 2007

Working on the Edge

My new Neuton cordless electric lawn mower with the edger/trimmer attachment came on Tuesday.

Wednesday I put it together and mowed the lawn. Yesterday, I read the instructions (yes, really!) and found out how the edger/trimmer works. But with the thunderstorm we had yesterday, I had to wait till today to try it out.

Started with the backyard path, which was pretty overgrown. What kind of a line I could get?

Better than with the string trimmer I once borrowed from a neighbor.

Even so, in some places, oops!

Then, around to the front.

Uncovered the brick edging I'd forgot I had along the walkway to the front door.

Then I tackled the public sidewalk. Can't say how this mower-attached edger compares overall to your typical hand-held string trimmer on that job. That one time time with my neighbor's machine, I got so annoyed at not being able to keep the line on the back walkway even, I gave up and did the front sidewalk with my dad's old yard knife, by hand.

Wish I could say my new edger cut through all the overhanging turf in one pass, but nothing doing. I suppose it's no surprise-- the string only extends out 3" or 4" at the most, and in some places the turf, including grass, was 6" thick.

So my dad's old yard knife (a cut-off and sharpened stainless steel dinner knife) batted cleanup again.

Then there was the everlasting issue of having the string break and having to undo the spool housing and find the end and poke it through the little hole then put it all back together again . . . Yeah, par for the course for string trimmers, but don't you think they'd figure out some way that wouldn't be necessary all the time?

Eight hours, several new calluses, a bodyful of sore muscles, and a sunburn later, I was finally sweeping up the last of the mess.

And I look at this job and I think, "Eight hours? For what?"

For a job that's Just Supposed to Be Done, that's what. It's not exciting or sexy like pulling the carpet off the stairs and finding good hardwood underneath or laying tile with perfect grout joints. Edging the sidewalk is like emptying the dishwasher or doing the laundry. You get no kudos or credit if you do it; in fact, you're a lazy slob if you don't. There's even a local borough ordinance requiring homeowners to keep the grass and so on off the public footpath. Don't wait for applause, just Get It Done, and about damn time, too.

And before you know it, it'll be time to do it again.

I've got some Dutch ancestry in the usual American mix, and something in me still admires the industrious huisvrouw of old who was out scrubbing her doorstep at 7:00 o'clock every morning. I still sometimes wish I could be that on top of everyday housekeeping and yard care chores. But it ain't gonna happen.

So big boring routine jobs like edging the sidewalk wait for some momentous event, like company coming or the purchase of a new power tool or God forbid, a citation from the local authority. I fear my Dutch great-great-great-great-grandmother would be sadly disappointed in me.

Though if she could see me using the new shop vac to sweep the dust off the sidewalk, I think she'd commend my ingenuity. So efficient. And very effective.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Something I've Learned

I installed a rain barrel two years ago, and I've often been glad for the use of it.

It started life as a proper Kentucky whiskey keg, with an uneven top that the plastic drain insert doesn't fit evenly into. But, I figured, "that don't make no never mind." The water always seemed get into it any how.

So this past Monday I was planting out, and pretty much drained the barrel dry. No problem: It rained a good clip on Tuesday and really bucketed down this afternoon. I watched the water splashing out of the downspout and slopping over the rim. "Gosh, that barrel really must be full! Too bad I don't have two of them in tandem!"

But this evening, I put in the Japanese eggplants I bought yesterday at K-Mart, and the edging marigolds that've been sitting since last Thursday. I went to wash off my trowel at the rain barrel, and about nothing came out of the hose. Wha . . . ?

Poked my camera down inside, and this is what I found:

Practically empty!

So here's what I learned: If your plastic drain grid doesn't fit evenly, take the silly thing off in a downpour! Otherwise, it'll just channel the water over the edge and you'll lose it all.

(I don't even want to think about what all that runoff water is doing to the footing of my porch pillar . . .)

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Someone Else's House

Please allow me a measure of non-house-restoration self-indulgence.

I mentioned earlier that I took my parents sight-seeing on Saturday. One of the sights we went to see was a church I worked on as project architect when I was full time with the big design firm. The program was to restore the tabernacle to the central axis, and to return the choir pews and organ, which were moved in the early 1980s to the chancel behind the altar, back to the rear balcony.

We came up with a scheme the parish priest and the donor liked, and eventually we convinced them to let us (that is, me) design the new reredos instead of shipping something over from Europe or letting an outside consultant do it.

So here it is. Very handsome, in my humble opinion!

I'm sorry I can't provide an overall view of the completed choir loft millwork and organ case. The house lights were off when we came. I had access to the light panel, but it's the fancy new one that's just been installed, and I've never seen it, I've never been shown how to use it, and I didn't want to risk messing up the settings just before Saturday evening Mass. So I let it alone.

Here's another shot of the reredos from the dedication last December. Not bad work for a Prot, eh?

Power Tool Lust

When my folks arrived Friday afternoon, my mom presented me with a birthday card. In it was a handwritten message saying, "Let's make a trip to the hardware store, or wherever, & we'll get some supplies for you."

Grateful isn't half the word for it, but I was stumped. I'd gotten the shop vac at Home Depot last Tuesday. Thursday night at Lowe's, I'd picked up few little things I needed for the carpet-lifting job. I didn't have the leisure while they were there to calculate the amount of stripper, sandpaper, etc., I'm going to need to tackle the wood stripping job. So nothing I needed right away would come to mind.

We went out sight-seeing on Saturday, and late that afternoon, I was no closer to a decision. But I had to think of something. There wasn't much time before we had to go home to change to go out to dinner, and my mom and stepdad were leaving right after lunch on Sunday afternoon. What, oh what, could I really use?

"The only thing I can think of," I mused, "is my rubber mallet is falling apart. I could really use a new rubber mallet."

But I got the feeling my mom was thinking of something more than a rubber mallet.

I thought out loud about the new sink I want to get to replace the inconvenient one I have now, but that didn't seem quite the right thing.

And then I got a mental picture of the 2nd floor hallway floor with the carpet newly removed. In my mind's eye I saw the paint drips, the indifferent finish, the irregular surface. I could see the potential in the flooring and its grain. And I remembered that my old sheet sander gave out two years ago. All I have now is a little Black & Decker Mouse.

It was an inspiration.

"Well, I could really use a belt sander . . . "

So we made a slight diversion to the local Lowe's. And after consulting with the clerk, a belt sander it was, an Hitachi SB-75. And when my step-dad presented me with the box, I had the strangest feeling. I've seen something like it described by other housebloggers. I can only describe it as power tool lust.

It's a feeling of intoxication and power that goes beyond knowing you now have the means to do a certain job and do it better. It's heady and non-rational and can hardly be explained. It doesn't come with cute little portable drills, blow-dryer-calibre heat guns, and Mouse sanders. No, power tool lust requires the sort of horsepower that'd pull a large beer wagon and enough amperage to brown out a small Kansas village.

It surged through me at Lowe's on Saturday afternoon. I suppressed it suitably, as befits my age and position, but it was there. I've kept it under control since then thinking of the prep work I'll need to do before any floor sanding can begin. Will the thrill revive when I actually get down to using this ten-pound monster? We shall see.

Whether or not, thank you to my mom and stepfather both for this useful tool. I shall think of you when I am making things beautiful in my boring beige house.

And thank you as well for the rubber mallet. It'll come in handy for bopping myself on the Kopf if power tool lust blinds my senses when I'm trying to get things done.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Hazardous Waste

Last night, Thursday, I decided that's it, the smelly second floor hallway rug has got to go. Aesthetic considerations suggested it was a good idea to rip it out. Common decency, sanitation concerns, and olfactory peace combined to make its removal absolutely necessary. Before company arrived. Now.
(After all, who wants to think she's lost her visiting parents a nights' sleep by the prodigious pong of pet pee wafting in through the bedroom door? )

It was nasty work. The carpet was filthy and stained, its edges booby-trapped with staple-tacks like shark's teeth. (Is my tetanus shot still up to date? I hope so!) The material had to be cut in pieces to satisfy the trash hauler, but it refused to go down without a fight.

As for the pad, you'd think the installers thought it would get up in the middle of the night and sneak away. Staples everywhere! Staples through the pad material and staples in the wood floor just for the fun of it! Staples smashed into the woodwork! And as a change from staples, broad-headed mails driven down to less than flush!

Well, I got the underlayment removed and bundled for pick-up, too.

Then the tack strips around the edges had to be pried up. Nails, more staples, splinters: at any moment I expected my dog to yelp in pain because he'd picked up something in his paw.

But the job got done.

Now I want to know, what are my options with the pine board flooring underneath?

Yes, fill the nail holes, sand it, maybe restain it a different tone, finish it. But what have people done about wide cracks like I have here? What do you do when you feel you could lose a small continent down the gaps?

And don't ya just love that slope in the floor! At some points it's more than an inch below the bottom of the baseboard.

I contemplate a really big shoe moulding. But maybe there're other options I haven't thought of. That is, short of tearing the surface off and shimming it up to level?

And in other news . . . here's the new bathroom mirror trim without the grout. That happened early this morning. I'm "borrowing" what little grout I need from some friends, as soon as they remember where they put the box.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

How I Spent My Birthday

It's wonderful what you can justify when it's your birthday.

And when you've got family coming and you don't want them to know what a lazy, disorganized slob you've been . . .

So I went shopping. First, at a nursery over in the next county that I only get to when I have other business over that way. A lunch meeting was my excuse today.

It's not the cheapest source of plants, but they've got great variety. It's owned by a man I know in my presbytery, and he's known to give pastors discounts. He wasn't in today, however, so it was full price for me.

Oh, well. I came home with three good-sized tomato plants, one cherry, one Roma, and one regular round; two flats of torenias in various colors for underneath my maple tree, two alstroemerias for my front steps, and a wrought iron hanger to put up a set of windchimes my mother sent me last Christmas.

They are none of them planted yet. Soon as these were home and stowed, it was off to the Home Depot to return the stock painted wood medicine cabinet I bought there last March.

Yes, last night I finally got around to starting on the tile surround for the bathroom medicine cabinet. Made good progress-- till I tried the new cabinet and discovered it was about 3/8" too wide.

Took it back today, then promptly wiped out the credit buying a 2.5 hp Ridgid shop vac.

Well, hey, I need one, don't I? I can't go on ruining my regular vacuum cleaners, can I? Besides, it was on sale.

And it's my birthday.

(Never you mind which one.)

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Ebay Drapery Fabric!

Is this fast delivery, or what?

The William Morris drapery fabric I bought via eBay arrived from Wales yesterday morning, only four days after I paid for it!

I verified the yardage, and the seller added in a third of a yard more, for good measure-- more good news.

As it happened, there was no Customs duty (I'm still ignorant as to what the regulations are).

As to the color, I was concerned it would be too bright red. Here's how it turned out:

At least, this is the best my camera can do to show how it looks in person. The background red has a pronounced tinge of russet brown, more than you see here. And the colors are actually more subdued. My dining room window hangings definitely will not be screaming.

(The funny thing is, while I was waiting for the shipment to arrive, I'd kind of gotten used to the idea of flaming red!)

Here's the fabric with a swatch of the wallpaper I'm planning to use:
It's another William Morris pattern, "Savernake." They work well together, I think.

All I have to figure out now is, what should I use to reupholster my dining room chair seats? I had them done in a beautiful "Owen Jones" patterned cotton when I bought the chairs back in the '80s, but by now it's shot.

. . . Well, no, actually, what I have to figure out now is what to do with the dining room windows, and how to pay for it. The custom window builders' recommended carpenter called back Wednesday morning, and he's to ring again tomorrow evening to see about coming out to look at the job sometime next week.

When it comes time to make up these draperies, I'll try to remember to post pictures of the process. I'm no expert, but I had decent success making some Roman shades a few years ago. So drapes shouldn't be too difficult (she says, as she staggers under the weight of all the fabric . . . ).

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Poor Dog, Poor Door, Poor Me!

I've got a very smart dog, I do. But he's not enough of a canine genius to remember over night which side of the back screen door he's supposed to come in by, now that the dog door is installed.

He's also very strong. And when he came barrelling back in this morning, this was the result:

(Maybe I shouldn't have hooked the door?)
I've put the screen back the best I can. And I stuck warning tape on the Wrong side. Though since then, it's fallen off.
But by this evening, my mutt seems to have caught on. "Aw rawt, rawt, yuppins, dis is da side Aw paws at an' it moves an' Aw ken go throo! Yuppins, here Aw go!"

But as they used to say, don't the screen look Dogpatch? It's no longer a matter of redoing the mesh, the whole frame has literally gone to rack and ruin.

I'll worry about it later. I have a sermon to finish for a pulpit supply assignment. It's for a service tomorrow night at a Lutheran church down the river, with a repeat on Sunday. Sung Communion. Should be interesting.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Bits and Pieces

Or should that be, "One Step Forward, Two Steps Back"?

Bit 1: Sunday evening, my 1998 vintage Black & Decker cordless lawn mower that I repaired so lovingly last month up and refused to work at all.

Well, I'd unplugged it the night before. We were having severe thunderstorms here in the Valleys and I didn't want it to surge out. Maybe the battery had lost its charge, even though it's brand new.

Plugged it back in; the indicator light turned red, and later green. Tried mowing the lawn again yesterday evening. Dead silence. Dead mower.

Nothing for it but to take the machine all the way into Town to the B&D/DeWalt repair shop this afternoon, to see if the pros can resurrect it. They think it might be the starter. God forbid it's the control module (the part the charger plugs into)-- B&D doesn't make it any more.

If they can't fix it, I'm definitely getting another cordless, of some brand. Or maybe I'll invest in a reel mower like I saw at Lowe's this evening. The box says it cuts 2" high, which is tolerable. (I've looked at some that only go to 1"-- a mowing height that's fine for golf courses in rainy Scotland, but not for here.)
Bit 2: It so happens that the millwork shop I sent my dining room window info to the other day is just up the block from the Black & Decker place. I walked over, made the acquaintance of the workshop dogs and one of their cats, and heard some good news: For them (the millworkers, not the animals) to build me insulated wood windows the sizes I need will cost me far, far less than I've been quoted by any of the big boys. They'd make me the muntin bar pattern I want and the units should look better, too.

However--a) They don't install (I knew that already); and b) they can't give me a firm price till they know if my jambs still have their weight pockets, or if we have to go with tracks; which c) means I have to get a carpenter to come look at my house; but d) I haven't gotten acquainted with any good carpenters in my neck of the woods.
The millwork boss recommended a guy who loves nothing better than messing about with sash weights and so on. But he lives all the way to hell and gone the other side of Pixburgh. Will he come to the Valleys? And if he will, how much extra will he want for mileage?

I've left a message on his answering machine. I can but try.

Bit 3: I bought plaster of Paris at Lowe's late this afternoon to patch the plaster next to my bathroom medicine cabinet. Gotta have a good substrate for the infill tile.

Got it home, turns out I grossly overestimated how much patching is needed. Probably could've gone with elastomeric spackle after all. I mean, do I really need 8 lbs. of poP powder? Do I go ahead and mix it up and glop it in there like a (wo)man? Or is it back to the store for a trade-in?
And which is better for the cracks in the plaster over my third floor stairs? They're looking ominous . . .

Though if I ever take up sculpture again, plaster of Paris is ace!

And finally, Bit 4: Hooray, I finished getting the dog door installed in the back porch screen door!

No time now to recount the saga that has been in the past year. But last night I went down to my workshop and thought, "I am sick of that screen lying there taking up all the space on my workbench. I'm going to put that dog door into it and that's that."

Got it done. Yes, I know the dog door is crooked. Joke on me. It's two plastic pieces that, like a royal proxy bedding his master's bride,* mate with the screen between them. I aligned it with the bottom of the screen and didn't notice it (the screen) was out of true until I'd poked too many holes in the mesh (consider the Tristan and Isolde followup comment made) to mend the situation.

Finished too late last night to fit the screen into the door itself. Yes, the screen came with those little compression-wire clips. But those frail wires are no match for my energetic hound. Had to install those traditional twirly clips, which means drill work. I had compassion on my neighbors and left it for this evening.
And now it's in. And I think I've got my dog trained to use it, though a few more doggie treats may have to lose their lives before the lesson is indelibly ingrained.

In the process, however, he just logically kept trying for the side that looked clear and unimpeded; that is, the side without the dog door. So much for the nice, tight aluminum screening job they did for me at the local hardware emporium.

The twirly clips held, though. So that's working.
So far.

*Line courtesy of Dorothy L. Sayers

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Am I a Genius . . . or an Idiot?

Am I a bloody genius or what?

I took the plunge and did a "Buy It Now" for some William Morris drapery fabric on eBay this afternoon.

I've decided to go with William Morris patterns in my house-- The style should do well to marry the Arts and Crafts and the Victorian elements I'm trying to pull together. I want red, full-length drapes in my dining room. I think "Strawberry Thief" is a fun pattern to have in a dining room.

And even at the Buy It Now price and adding in the freight, what I'm paying is very, very, very inexpensive for this fabric, especially for a colorway I haven't seen anywhere else. (And believe me, I've looked.)

I'll be making these drapes up myself, and I'll be saving beaucoup over what I would pay getting the sizes I need from Smith+Noble or some shop of that ilk.

So why do I worry I may have been an idiot?

Because the fabric is coming from Wales and I have no idea how much Customs duty our dear US inspectors may choose to slap onto it.

Because of a creeping fear that when I see it in person, the color will turn out to be too screamingly orange.

Because after I committed to buy, I blew up the sale page images on my computer, to get an idea of the actual pattern size-- and oh, dear, it looks rather, well, large.

Not that I want my DR drapes to be coy and mimsey. But I prefer they not yell "Look at meeeeeeeeeeee!!!!" all through dinner.

Too late now. And at the price, it's still worth the risk. If it doesn't work and the seller won't take it back, I'll relist the goods myself.

I shall not, however, be bidding on the "Chrysanthemum" fabric I've been coveting from another seller the past week and a half. Gosh, I love these colors! They'd look so good in my front room. But I've checked the proportions, and if "Strawberry Thief" is large, "Chry-santhemum" is humongous.

What I don't understand is why Mr. Morris designed his patterns so darned big. Maybe he thought we should all live in large, well-proportioned manor houses like Kelmscott?

I could only dream!