Wednesday, January 30, 2008


I resolved at the beginning of January to strip at least one piece of woodwork a week. I also resolved to have all the woodwork that's going to be stripped, stripped by the end of the year, and to get the dining room and living room trim refinished.

Let me see . . . I went round the house and counted last week, and I have about 330 pieces of trim, casing, stair parts, and so on to relieve of their paint and old varnish. This does not include the stair treads, the upstairs hall floor, or the panel doors. At one piece per week, that would take me-- what? Six years and four months?

I think we have a conflict here.

Then throw in the 22 or so pieces supplied by the POs-1 when they remodelled the place in the 1980s or early '90s. These were painted from the first and the paint refuses to come off. And if it would come off, it wouldn't matter, since you turn these pieces around and find they're full of big ugly knots. Still, something also needs done with them. Replace with new wood and shellac, if I can find some clear trim that blends with my old yellow pine and it doesn't cost too much? Ideal. Do what Craig and Yvonne Schiable did in their Victorian house in Jersey and grain the existing pieces to match the new shellac job? Maybe. I've done it before.

So add messing with those in, and I've stretched the job out to September of 2014-- not counting refinishing.

I do not think so.

So I've accelerated things a bit. This is what I've accomplished so far this year:

That's 17 pieces out of 330 . . . 5% of the stripping job done. At this rate, I'm still looking at September of 2009.

But, I tell myself, "Be of good cheer!" In my count I didn't make allowance for size and shape (too much like work). A plinth block is one piece, a six foot lintel is one piece. In the dining room, I'm almost done with the big long pieces. I'm out of Western Wood Doctor refinisher since yesterday, but as soon as the new shipment comes, I should be able to get all the surface trim for the dining room piano windows done in the next week or so. Twelve more pieces down!

"Almost done with the big long pieces" doesn't count the baseboards. That's a separate issue, and a separate post.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

A Forced Endeavor?

My high school senior English teacher, Mrs. Welch, had certain verbal tics that inadvertently provided comic relief to what could be a dull hour.

One of these tics was the word "endeavor." She'd say it with a cultured drawl that delighted and enlived us, her students: "Now, class, we will all endeavor . . . " We'd make hash marks in the margins of our notebooks every time she said it and compare who'd noticed the most "endeavor"s in any given class period. She'd use the word every chance she got. She'd use it when it was the best word for the job and when it was not.

And when it was not, that was a forced endeavor.

Some people think the making of New Year's resolutions is a forced endeavor. Hey, just do what you were going to do, anyway, right?

But sometimes it's good to be forced to do things you really ought to do. Sometimes it's useful to be forced to sit down and think about what you really ought to do. And it's always a good and useful thing to get out there and endeavor. Meaning, try earnestly and boldly with full intent to succeed.

So in community with other housebloggers throughout the world, and with a mental memorial toast to the late, great Oodles Welch, in 2008

I will endeavor to finish stripping all the woodwork in the house that's going to be natural finish. This comprises the casings and baseboards in the dining room, living room, front room, stairhall, stairway, and second floor hall.

I will endeavor to refinish all said woodwork in the dining room and living room, including any contiguous cased opening trim in adjacent rooms.

I will endeavor to replace the existing cornice mouldings in the dining room and living room with something better-proportioned and more appropriate, and to suitably finish said replacements.

I will endeavor to strip and repaper the dining room and living room-- assuming, that is, that the dollar-to-pound exchange rate allows me to purchase the William Morris paper I've had my eye on the past four years.

I will endeavor to strip and refinish the wood stairs up to the 2nd floor and the wood second floor hallway floor.

I will endeavor to replace all the windows in the living room and dining room (as well as the leaky ones in the front bedroom and dressing room) with new custom-built, energy-efficient wood windows, whether I install them myself or hire the work out.

These are the big projects. For some middle-sized projects,

I will endeavor to come up with something to use for a broom closet on the 1st floor, either a between-the-studs built-in or a freestanding piece of casework.

I will endeavor to assemble and finish the bare wood shelf unit that's been sitting in pieces in the basement the last three years.

I will endeavor to scribe and install the trim for the ledge along the basement steps.

I will endeavor to design and build a grow light frame-- by late February-- and start garden seedlings indoors.

I will endeavor to prep and paint my Adirondack garden furniture so I can actually take it outdoors this year.

I will endeavor to remove the disgusting, paint-soaked carpet from the stairs to the 3nd floor, and decide what to do with the wood steps underneath.

Amid and among all this, I have what I call my "Little Dumb Things I Gotta Do" list. I will endeavor to deal with that in a separate post!

But I almost forgot the biggest 2008 Endeavor of all:

In 2008, I will endeavor to get a steady job so I can pay for all this. Otherwise, well . . .

Keep endeavoring!

Monday, January 14, 2008

Making the Right Connections

When I retired to bed last night (ok, early this morning), I noticed that the lamp in my bedroom wouldn't turn on. Nor would the space heater. And the clock radio was dark. And the phone display was blank.

In short, all my bedroom outlets were kaput.

I could not figure this out. How could an electrical overload in my basement affect the outlets in my second floor bedroom?

Well, it was too late to work it out now. I'd see what the electrician would say on the morrow.

This morning, I was happy to find that the furnace had been working all night-- no frozen delight in the toilet bowl! But there was water ponding across the basement floor-- courtesy of the non-functioning condensation pump.

That was not unexpected. What I didn't understand is why the first floor phone, which is plugged into an outlet in my living room, was getting no power. And the lamp that shares that recepticle wasn't working, either.

Huh? Did last night's electrical fry extend that much influence over the house's whole system?

Or could it be that-- oh, no, not again! I thought I'd solved all that two or three years ago!

"All that" refers to the circus that was POs'-1 idea of upgrading the electrical system in this house. Yes, they used code-approved wiring and connectors, but they joined and over-joined outlets, switches, and appliances all over the house on single circuits. For instance, all the kitchen appliances and the back porch lights were on one circuit and my POs had to have someone out to untangle it: I've got the invoice in my house file as testimony. Shortly after I moved in, I discovered (thanks to an overload), that just one circuit was carrying the 3rd floor outlets, an outlet in the guest bedroom, the outlets, microwave, and dishwasher in the kitchen, and the outlet in the basement bath.

I got an electrician in to rectify that. But now are you telling me that the basement lights, my bedroom outlets, and the living room outlets are all on one circuit, too? Is anybody really sure where anything from my panel box really goes?

Well. When the electrican sent by the home warranty company made his appearance around 1:30 PM, that's exactly what he did tell me. Not only that, but he showed me that my workshop and main basement lights are on the same circuit, too!

No idea how I managed to trip the circuit last night, but that's all it was-- I simply hadn't shoved the circuit breaker far enough over to turn it all the way off, then back on again.

And as for the initial outage-- that was due to a loose connection in-- well, let's just say the only source of power in my workshop is a screw-in recepticle in the pull-chain ceiling fixture, with the bulb screwed into that. From thence, an extension cord or two snakes down to a power strip, into which I'd plugged my worklight, my radio, and a heatgun drawing maybe 2500 watts. The electrician tested the power draw, and it was about to the limit. He theorizes that the furnace condensation pump must have kicked in, and with the tenuous connection in the light fixture recepticle, it was too much.

So when it came down to it, nothing really was broken. That doesn't mean, though, that nothing needs fixed. That light-fixture recepticle arrangement gives me the willies, especially after last night.

So I asked the electrician how much he'd charge for a surface-mounted duplex outlet in the workshop and two in the main basement room. He suggested they all be on the same circuit, 20 amp rating. Should be enough for the power tools, work lights, and all.

He named what sounds like a reasonable price. But my regular electrician is coming by tomorrow night to look at things and give me a second bid.

Whomever I decide to use, if I'm to keep using the heat gun to tackle the woodwork stripping, I need a power source that can take it. I have a lot of items on my electrical improvements wish list, but the basement outlets have just moved up to No. 1.

Acute Overload

Tonight (meaning Sunday evening) I was down the basement making my weekly offering on the altar of woodwork stripping.

Used the Western Wood Doctor refinisher to take one piece of dining room-kitchen casing down to the bare wood. Dry-chipped the paint off the cornice of the lintel. Used the heat gun to take the paint off the top of the cornice of the long lintel on the dining room side of the casing between the dining room and living room.

Then after a break that lasted till after 11:00 PM, I went back down cellar to tackle the other piece of the casing going from the dining room to the kitchen. This piece was definitely a heat gun job, since it would not dry chip at all. Most of my woodwork has only three layers of paint: off-white, cream, and mushroom-beige; this piece adds a lichen green, among other colors, to the mix. Don't know what it was doing on the dining room side: Maybe it was originally in the kitchen and got moved when the POs-1 did their kitchen remodel.

So there I am at 1:30 AM or so, almost done stripping this thing with the heat gun, all but a few inches on the side edges. I'm on a roll. I could see me cleaning it off with the liquid refinisher before I was done tonight!

Then, suddenly, as I moved around to get a better angle on the remaining paint, the heat gun turned itself off. As did the work light, and the radio, and the pull-chain ceiling light in my workshop.

I should explain, perhaps, that I do my woodwork stripping in the main room of the basement of my foursquare. The workshop is under the former front porch, and it's too long and narrow to set up sawhorses. But there are no outlets in the main room, unless you count the one in one of the pullchain lights, into which is plugged a strange extension cord that leads to something on the furnace that does I know not what. Think it has something to do with the drain thingy that carries water through a long tube and ultimately drips it in my laundry room sink.

So if I want to plug anything in where I was working, I have to use the plug strip just inside the door of the workshop. But obviously, it wasn't just the plug strip that wasn't working, it was the circuit for all that room.

But I had lights where I was, and after shutting off the heat gun, I immediately checked the circuit panel.

Hmm. No circuit switches were tripped.

Tried the one marked "Basement." That turned off the lights in the main basement room.

Turned them back on, and tried a couple more switches that weren't marked.

No effect on the workshop lights.

Tried a couple more. Including, for some cockamamie reason, the one marked "Basement." It turned off the lights again, but when I pushed it back to On, they stayed Off. And that circuit switch is now limp.

Tried flipping the mains switch. No effect whatsoever, except that now I have to reset various electric clocks throughout the house.

There was nothing more I could do tonight, but sweep up the stripping mess by the light of the laundry room ceiling light. (Do not want the cats sampling the paint chips.)

And put in a call to my home warranty company. I may not be covered for this, but at least getting into the automated system will get an electrician out here to see.

(The really fun thing about this is the furnace. There's supposed to be a separate circuit for that; at least, that's what's marked in my panel. But what if that weird cord up to that pullchain light actually controls something essential, Without Which the Furnace Will Not Work?

I guess I'll find out if the toilet bowl water is frozen over in the morning . . . )

Friday, January 11, 2008


Got the rest of the crape myrtles planted this afternoon. At least, all but the one that's going somewhere in the back yard.

I'm happy to say that the hole digging went faster today. I learned the holes for the two little ones I still needed to put into the new bed by the front steps don't have to be as deep as for the bigger varieties. And the remaining, larger, specimen was going into the front border, where it turned out that the previous owners' landscaper, even if incompetent as to the selection, spacing, and positioning of plants, had taken out the sandy soil to a depth of about 16" and replaced it with topsoil. So the roundy rocks were few and far between, and all it needed was a few handfuls of perlite to lighten things up a bit.

What I don't get, however, is what they tell you about watering shrubs in. The soil was workable enough when I was mixing it (though I admit, I forgot to do the squeeze test). I did what they tell you about dumping water over the loosened-up and modified soil in the hole and letting it drain. Then I watered the shrubbies again after I popped them into the ground, as they say to do. Not a lot, because the little plants seemed wet enough already. Ground around them was going splooshy, splooshy, squelch! Like some kind of a bog or something.

(Don't tell me: I'm supposed to let the hole drain for a day and a half before putting the plants in? Or if it doesn't drain in fifteen minutes, I'm supposed to take all the soil out again and replace it with 100% perlite?)

But it was starting to rain. And hail. And the temperature was dropping. And is supposed to continue dropping this weekend. And I wanted to get these shrubs in the ground, because if I don't do it now, I'm liable to forget about them till sometime next June.

So I took the gamble and planted them, squelchy planting holes or no. I guess I'll see if I rolled the dice correctly in the spring.

And if they don't grow, at least the holes are there, and I'll try again.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Judgement Call

Oops. I just looked at the flip side of the crape myrtle growing instruction page, and it says to totally replace the hole dirt with potting soil.

Guess that's what the grower was talking about.

Hmm. I’ll have to think about this. Do I want to dig up the two I planted and redo both those holes? Not necessarily . . . Because I’ve read other authorities on growing shrubs who say that if the soil in your planting hole is too much different than the native soil around it, the roots will never venture into the native soil, they’ll just coil round and round in the fancier dirt you put in. And never really get established.

Only thing that might make me start over is the warning on the crape myrtle instructions not to use heavy sand-based mixes. That’s what I’ve got out there, that’s for sure. I mean, don't I want these babies to have every possible advantage?

On the other hand, can I really afford the luxury of several bags of Miracle-Gro potting soil?

Um, no. Maybe I'll just get some perlite and lighten the mix I’ve got going.

Oh, yes-- for what it’s worth, it’s been running rivers of rain since 8:30 or so. Did not go out in it to see if the leaf mulch is holding. If it's not, there's nothing I can do about it tonight.

Rocks Do Not Rock

My crape myrtle order arrived today, along about lunchtime. And any other plans for the afternoon immediately went on hold.

They came dormant in a long box, in pots, and no, despite what one acquaintance warned me, they were not sticks a mere 8" high. Some were a good three or more feet high, depending on the variety.

First thing, made sure all the varieties I'd ordered were present and accounted for. Check!

Then I had a look at the enclosed planting instructions. And found I needed help interpreting them. The generic instructions weren't clear as to whether I could safely plant these things in January in southwestern Pennsylvania. Can I or can't I?

So I called the guy in Florida who sells them and he says, yes, I can plant them now, as long as I mulch them well, like two to four inches. He kept saying that, as though mulching were something problematic.

(Maybe he was thinking of people who don’t have any mulch around at this time of year, and who put off buying any until the little shrubbykins freeze their rootsies off and are goners. Me, I have lots of mulch on hand-- all those maple leaves I ground up last evening.)

So then I asked him how big I should dig the holes.

"You know how big a plastic gallon milk carton is?"


"Well, you put one of those on top of the other and that’s how deep you should dig the holes."

"That’s nearly two feet!"

"Yes, but you’re up by Pittsburgh. You have to do that because of all the rocks in the soil. We lived in Pittsburgh for several years, and that’s how we did it."

And it turned out, he was right. About the rocks, I mean. Which is why it took me over four hours to dig just two holes. It’s like the guy at the local high-end nursery says: This is the Magic Kingdom of Beaver, where anything will grow-- if you get rid of all the roundy rocks first. And there were a lot of roundy rocks in that soil by the steps to the sidewalk.

The second hole was even more rock-bound than the first. I looked at the rock collection I pulled out of that hole, and I wondered how it’d had any room for the red sand. I’d have to measure it to make sure, but I pulled out one rock like a loaf of Italian bread, about ten inches long and maybe ten-eleven inches around. I’d hoped to hit a stratum where it was just sand, as I did with the first hole, but when I got the twenty or so inches down, it was still stones, stones, and more stones.

I gave up. If the roots of the bush get that deep, they can jolly well find their way around the little rocks. The big ones are gone.

Crape myrtle guy also said something about using potting soil. I didn’t have enough potting soil, and I almost drove over to the Agway to get some. But then I decided no, the plants aren’t that delicate, they can get along on the red sand mixed in with the black garden dirt I got for the backyard reseeding last October, and whatever potting soil I have.

Dug one hole, mixed the dirt (the garden soil was still wet and goopy, but the sand helped), watered it in, and dumped the excavated rocks where they'd blend in with the landscape rock that the previous owners paid to bring in. Same process with the second hole. And that’s all I had time for, because the sunlight was almost gone.

As to whether I should plant the two little shrubs I'd dug the holes for this evening or wait till tomorrow . . . I decided to take my chances and get them in.

The four I couldn’t get planted I lay on their sides at the foot of the front, south-facing wall of the house, covered with mulched leaves. Two to four inches deep? We’re talking more like ten to twelve!

And there's now a good blanket of leaves are on the ones I planted, too.

I’ve checked the weather, and we're supposed to have a high of 45 tomorrow, with maybe some light rain. Not the best weather for digging, but there’s worse.

Anyway, I’ve done all I can do on this today. Wish I could have gotten all six crape myrtles in the ground, but when you've got rocks, you've got rocks. And that doesn't necessarily rock.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

So How Did YOU Take Advantage of the Fine Weather?

I did yardwork.

Didn't everyone?

For ages I've had it in mind to put in some kind of flowering bushes next to the cheekwall of the steps down to the front sidewalk. I can never get the grass there mowed properly, and I hate having to come back with shears or the edger to make it look nice.

A couple months ago I found out that crape myrtles might be the sort of flowering shrub I'm looking for-- right kind of shape, easy to grow, and with a long flowering season. I've put an order in for six of them, and they should arrive later this week.

Yesterday I drew up a plan for the bed by the sidewalk-- four myrtles of various sizes will go there. Today I did the digging.

Got it all laid out with stakes and string. Then I hit a snag: I couldn’t make any headway with the digging spade. The neighbor who lives in the house on the corner was vacuuming out his car: I asked him, Did he know the best tool to use for cutting sod?

He hadn’t a clue. They use a landscaper.

(Pleeeeeeeease don't tell me I gotta go buy a special sod lifting implement to finish this job! Pleeeeeeaase?)

Deep breath. Go get the shovel and the garden fork. Apply garden fork to sod at edge of sidewalk . . . Hurrah! It did the trick! Lift the sod strips up all round the edges, and peel it up and make like it's a chocolate jelly roll!

A very heavy chocolate jelly roll.

I now have four rolls of sod (about 16 square feet worth) lying next to the back porch, and what I’ll do with them, I have no idea. I'd use them in the thin places in my back yard, but I'm too lazy to dig up the dirt so the grass will all be even. Besides, winter isn't the best time of year to lay sod-- is it?

No sign of grubs or anything nasty in the roots, I’m happy to say.

I've put stakes (green, metal, hard to see in the photo) in where the bushes are to go. And now I merely have to wait for them to arrive. Hopefully before the weather gets cold and grotty again.

Before I'm done I'll need to get some bricks to edge the new bed. That was the theme as I found it here, and it looks neat enough. One of these days I’ll go down to the local brickyard and see if they can sell me colors to match what I have now. I’ve seen Lowe’s selection, and it won’t make it.
It wouldn't hurt to ask the brickyard guys at the same time what it would cost to have the steps replaced. The concrete’s so full of holes, I get volunteer annuals growing there in the summers and you'd think it was a planter.

Meanwhile, the brick pieces at the toe of the now-denuded slope are there to maybe-- I hope!--keep the dirt in. Forecast says it might rain tonight.

(Of course. And me with bushels and bushels of dried maple leaves that still need mulched!)

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Not My 2008 Project Resolution List

No. That I still have to put a bit more thought into.

Drumroll, please . . . This is about me this evening actually starting to keep a house renovation resolution, one I was coerced (!) into making when I went to eat pork at some friends' house on New Year's Day.

"We're all going to go around the table and make our resolutions!" said my friend. "We'll write them down and next year we'll see who's kept theirs!"

Her husband resolved to make steady headway on their house rehab. So what could I do? I resolved to do something at least once a week towards getting the woodwork paint stripping done.

(Sunday's five days from Tuesday. That's still within the week, right?)

My intention this evening was merely to use the dental picks to get some of the paint out of the crack between the lintel and the cornice of the dining room doorway casing.

But I quickly figured out that the paint was on the plaster goop the previous-previous owners used to fill the crack. So I got my pry bar and eased off the cornice and took it down the basement to work on it there.

But I already had a trim piece down there on the sawhorses, the jamb from the living room casing. It's been there since last July. It really took priority.

And the heat gun that was recommended to me by Reggie at Howard Hall Farm has been down in my basement since August, and I've never yet used it. In fact, it still had the twist-tie around the cord.

Okay, why don't I have a go at using it this evening?

You would be so proud of me. I actually decided that melted paint residue wouldn't look good on the new jeans and black leather oxford shoes I was wearing. And took the time to change into my grubby work clothes.

And then I went to work with the heat gun on the jamb piece from the living room. Don't know if I just lacked patience, but it didn't seem to make much headway on the paint that'd been treated with paint stripper then dried again.

So I got out the old standby: Howard's Western Wood Doctor Refinisher and medium steel wool.

And it worked. On that living room piece, at least. Happily, we're having a warm spell here in southwestern Pennsylvania, and I was able to open the basement windows. But boy, was I glad when it was time to take the dog outside when I was done!

(I'm also glad that the one cat that ventured downstairs to investigate turned tail and ran upstairs the minute he got a whiff of the refinisher.)

Going strictly on this evening's experience, it looks like I'll have to take down all the trim, use the scraper to get off all the loose paint, use the heat gun to lift the paint that's stuck, and use the Wood Doctor to deal with whatever's left.

I'd hoped to keep the existing natural finish intact as possible and just use another Howard product to even it out, but forget it. Once the stuck paint's off, everything next to it is devastated. Best solution may be to jump on the shellac bandwagon and redo all the trim using that. I've got a spare piece of the 1916 trim left from the time my POs-1 reconfigured the doorways, so I'll have something to match the color by.

I stopped when I ran out of medium steel wool. Following on the mindset resolutions already made, I won't run to the store for it tomorrow. I'll take a day or two and make sure everything I need is on the list-- and anything I don't really need is not.

Doing one piece a week, I may get the crud off all the woodwork by, oh, next September?

Yes, but if you don't do at least one piece a week, it'll get done, like, when?

Mental Remodelling

It having been suggested by our esteemed moderators that we make known to our audience our home improvement resolutions for the Year of Our Lord 2008, I take keyboard in hand cheerfully to comply.

. . . Well, actually, I've never been one for making New Year's resolutions. I favor New Year's Ambitions instead. As far back as high school, that's what I've been listing this time of year. "Find out where the elevator behind the Teachers' Lounge goes." That sort of thing.

Resolutions leave me squirmy. "I will never go out of the house with paint under my fingernails." They're full of "always" and "never" and "every day." Blow that sort of requirement even once, your resolution flutters down into the well of guilt and extinction. Resolutions tend to be all about changing oneself-- "I will stop coveting other people's antique furniture." That's hard to do-- and easy to give up on, by, say, January 10th or so. And there, you've ruined another year.

Whereas Goals and Ambitions-- those are fine, objective things. You accomplish your goal-- "Take wood whittling class"-- and you can tick it off your list and feel really pleased with yourself all year.

And in accordance with my usual custom, I could just set some rehabbing goals and join the merry throng of housebloggers who are listing the projects they want to complete in 2008. But I'm having to face the fact that it's my attitude and methods that've kept me from getting much done around this messy, torn-up house in 2007. And that if I'm going to tick any projects off my list, I'll have to do the hard thing and work on straightening myself out, first.

So with the help of God (gee, I feel like I'm taking my ordination vows all over again), in 2008 I resolve to:

1. Deliberately plan projects in terms of time, money, and materials.

I am so good at going off half-cocked! Do you have any idea how many different means and methods of getting paint off wood that I've invested in the past three or four years? I'll be walking through the aisles at Home Depot or Lowe's, and I'll spot some sure-fire tool or compound on the shelf, and "Oooh! shiny! shiny! That'll solve all my paint-stripping problems! I gotta get that!" And just as likely when I get it home, I find I have a can or carton of whatever it is already.

No. Cannot afford that. I can plan perfectly well in behalf of my architecture clients; it's time I exercised that capacity to benefit myself.

2. Accept my limitations and get done what I can get done.

Yes, I haven't gotten a heck of a lot done around here. And it's largely for the head-on-crooked reason that I somehow feel I should get it all done perfectly, all at once. Or at least, within the next month or so. But I can't. I know I can't. But I still feel I should. So it's just easier to go play computer card games and live vicariously through other people's houseblogs, rather than tackle my own house and, oh, no, "fail" to get the entire rehab done perfectly, all at once.

This "should" of magic-wand perfection is hereby hauled out and dumped in the trash can in the alley. The garbage haulers will charge me extra to take it away, it's so big, but it'll be worth the removal fee.

3. Avoid wasting mental effort and physical energy on projects that are not immediate priorities.

Face it, it's so much sexier to think about redoing the bathroom, which is a five-years-out venture, than it is to actually get downstairs and scrub the dormant mold off the basement walls. It's more fun to look at patterns for curtains, than actually to clean up the woodwork around the windows those curtains might someday go on.

But sexy and fun doesn't get me any forwarder. I spend a lot of time dreaming when I could be doing. "Come to meeeeee!" says the vampire-- but I gotta hold up the garlic and the cross and ward off his decadent, time-and-effort leeching charms.

There's more mental remodelling I surely need to do, but that's enough to tackle for one year!

Next post, I'll deal with what this will mean in terms of actual house projects.

Oooh, goodie, I get to make some New Year's Ambitions!

Friday, January 4, 2008

On the Eleventh Day of Christmas

It's now or never for reflections on Christmas decorations.

I got a live, fresh-cut Christmas tree for the first time this Christmas season. Usually, I wait till Lowe's or somebody puts theirs on sale. But this year, the Lowe's trees were 75% off by December 19th-- and you could tell why. Most of them had all the needles fallen off the lower branches. Pathetic.

So on the 21st I went to the only local Christmas tree farm that grows Fraser firs, and got one from them. (The saga is documented here.)

The people at the tree farm said I didn't have to recut the base of the tree after I got home. But next time I'm doing it anyway. It was an hour and a half between the time the saw hit the tree's trunk and the time I got it into water, and that isn't that long. But it hasn't been drinking that much water out of the stand ever since. And that worries me.

Maybe it's not drinking because it's not thirsty, because it was cut fresh? Maybe I'm inexperienced and don't know how a fresh cut tree behaves?

Well, maybe. But if I make a new cut after I get it home, I'll be sure.

Anyway, I put the tree in the stand and brought it inside. This is how it looked:
Nice and conical and symmetrical, right?

And here's how it looked Christmas Eve after I got the lights on it:

Hardly like the same tree. Like something straight out of Dr. Seuss. You expect Cindy Lou Who to make her appearance any second.

What's the problem? Wilting? Dryness? Excessive heat?
(In case you're wondering, that baseboard register is closed.)

No, it's the new strings of lights I bought this year and last, the ones with the lamps 3" on center. With my aesthetic insistance that the lights be clipped to the branches and not float loose between them, this goofy result was inevitable. And so up to where I ran out of clips, about 2/3 of the way up, my tree is effectively roped and hogtied.

So you want a New Year's resolution? I resolve for Christmas 2008 to find some lights with wider spacing. The ones I have take too long to put on, anyway.

But here's something that worked, and I recommend it to all pet owners whose dogs and cats like to drink out of the basin of the Christmas tree stand.

You know those e-collars that fit around a dog's neck to keep him from biting himself where he shouldn't? I clipped two of them together around the trunk to keep the cats out of the tree water. I had one e-collar already, and made a mental note to get another from the pet supply store as soon as I saw the kittens make their first beeline for the stand.

It's great. No puddles on the floor and no cats drinking stuff they shouldn't.

Only question I have now is, do I store the e-collars with the pet supplies, or with the Christmas decorations?