Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Deacon Duties?

This past Sunday I pulpit supplied at a church about a half-mile from The Sow's Ear. After the service, a woman, one of the deacons, came up to me.

But she didn't introduce herself as one of the deacons. She said, "You live next door to the Beauchamps*, don't you?"

The Beauchamps* indeed are my neighbors to the west, and members of that church.

"Yes, I do," said I.

"I used to live in their house! We sold it to them a month or so after the Carpenters sold yours to you!"

Temporary mind freeze, while I tried to work out the time perception discrepancies. I could have sworn the Beauchamps* were in their house two weeks before I was . . . ?

The lady and I traded moving in and out and real estate closing horror stories, until we both realized we weren't doing our duty. She had to clean up the sanctuary and I had to get into the fellowship hall and greet people. At the very last minute, simultaneously, I put on my glasses so I could see her nametag to read her name and she gave it to me herself.

I think I've managed to remember it. I worship in that church sometimes when I'm not on call. I'll be looking for this deacon at coffee hour. She might be able to serve me well with information about my previous owners. And about what was done to my house, when. There's all sorts of things I'd really like to know!

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Carpet Diem

Today was a red-letter day in our part of the borough-- It was Annual Large-Item Curbside Pick-Up Day.

Large-Item Curbside Pick-Up Day comes but once a year, so you want to take full advantage of its joys.

This year, I didn't have much to throw out. Just a couple of really large cardboard cartons that yeah, I really should recycle but they'd hardly fit in my car, let alone in the recycling dumpster.

So last night I got them off my back porch and onto the curb.

What else should I get rid of? Went down the basement, to survey the scene there. I noticed the roll of fake berber carpet scraps on top of the metal paint can shelf. No, I might use some of that to make scratching posts for my kitties.

But wait a minute. Carpet . . . carpet . . . Oh, hey, I still have that godawful filthy pet-hair-covered over-ten-year-old installed by the previous owners that my oldest cat dumped the can of white paint all over back in 2003 berber carpet on the stairs going up to the third floor!

Seize the day! Seize the day! It's gotta go sometime, and if I got it out to the curb last night, the borough would take it away this morning for free! Otherwise, it's an upcharge from the regular trash haulers! Do it! Who cares if it's not on the agenda! Do it now!

So I did. Took about five hours to remove carpet, pad, tack strips, and most of the staples. Well, a lot of the staples. Around here, the carpet staples have carpet staples, and they don't give up easily-- I've got the scratches to prove it.
Look what we have here! No paint!

Soft but tough things with lots of pointy ends (No, Rhadwen did not go to the curb. Just supervising)

The good news: The paint didn't seep through too badly, and the treads and risers were never painted!
Carpet avalanche

The bad news: One or two of the treads are cracked or broken. Couldn't feel it through the carpet and pad, but now it feels weird to walk on. Of course the really broken one is at the bottom with the doorway casing sitting on it. More complicated than just prying it up, bracing it underneath, and reinstalling it.

The inevitable news: The treads will have to be stripped anyway, because they do have splotches of paint on them. And I'm thinking I want the floor to be not so dark, anyway.

So I'll redo the treads in a lighter toned natural finish. But I'm thinking of painting the risers white to match the rest of the trim going up to the 3rd floor. Seems a little stark as it is, and I think it'll set this part of the house off as a different zone.
But here's the question: Considering all the wood stripping I've been doing around this place, am I a screaming hypocrite to even consider painting any woodwork that's currently natural finish? Or am I just looking to do what'll look and work the best?

I'm open to input. This much is certain: I got up this morning and looked out the window, and all that nasty old carpet is gone! It's gone!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Is It Really Spring?

Haven't posted much lately, since between doing my taxes and running my dog to the weekend emergency vet's and and trying to get some sewing done, I haven't done a lot-- well, anything-- on the house lately.

But I have been raking out and mulching up the rafts and tons of leaves that spent the winter in my borders.

The weapon of choice this season is the electric lawn mower. The leaf-vac takes too blinking long. As for the mulcher/chipper with the Briggs & Stratton engine I borrowed from some friends last week, I couldn't get it started.

And although I'd swear that everyone else in the neighborhood must've dumped their leaves in my piles when I wasn't looking, I am making progress. At a blinding rate that should see me done sometime around leaf fall next autumn.

And this evening, under all those gray and brown leaves, look what I uncovered . . .

No, that isn't some dead man's fingers reaching out of a shallow grave.

It's the blanched version of some kind of hosta. Don't ask me what kind; my previous owners put it in, along with about a hundred of its kin.

Well, it seems like a hundred. And they do self-sow! I have mercy and leave them there because I haven't thought what else I might like instead.

This is a flowering quince.

At least, I saw a picture once that looked like it, and that's what it said it was. I found this shrub as a few poor, stunted, ground-hugging twigs with thorns and not a lot of leaves. I pruned it and propped it up on bricks and this is the reward I have for my charity.

Nice reward, actually. I just have to keep it tied back, or the thorns will lacerate anyone who tries to use the garden path.

This is one of the miniature rhododendrons I transplanted last fall, to get them out of the full sun where the POs' landscaper put them.

So far so good. Haven't killed them yet, as I did their cousin the azalea. They may actually survive.

This is a climbing rose I planted, Sympathie by name.

It'll have masses of bright red remontrant blooms when it gets really established. Right now I'm just pleased to see it's healthy and sprouting.

And these are the daffs I planted last fall.

They look kind of silly up against the fence, don't they? But now that I know how tall they get and what color they are, I can decide where I'd like to move them for next year. Think of it as an experimental bed.

So do you think it really is spring? Is winter really gone for good? I mean, the temperature got down to 26 degrees two nights ago; I had to do the ghost in the garden thing with the climbing rose!

I'll go with hope and say spring has truly come.

But if we get another four inches of snow before May, I won't be shocked or surprised.

I also won't shovel it. This time of year, that's the sun's job.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Lo! Th'Forsythia Bloom, Forsooth!

Yes, I noticed a good stand of them outside a fast food place on the way to choir practice last night.

Meaning today I had to get the corn gluten pre-emergent onto the front and back lawns.

First, though, I had to figure out how to use the drop spreader. Which I bought, what? nearly four years ago? And never used because I've been having the Scott's people take care of my lawn the last three years?

In fact, I was having the Scott's people do my lawn because the idea of learning to use the drop-spreader made my eyes glaze over. Well, this year, I'm taking care of my grass myself, organically as I can, so the spreader beast had to be slain.

OK, this thing needs calibration . . . "Squeeze the trigger against the handle. . . . The front edge of the shutoff bar should be aligned with the calibration line engraved on the bottom of the hopper. . . . "

Good grief! How can I hold onto the trigger and get around to where I can see some teeny-tiny calibration line? I don't have arms like an ape!

Oh. Duh. I do have a brain like a human, though. Which I actually remember to use from time to time. Take one stray piece twist-tie, bind trigger to handle, lay spreader down, put on strong reading glasses and locate calibration line!

Yep, needed calibration. . . . Got it.

But I still needed to check the spread rate. Used a step-by-step procedure off a website called Extremely Green. Did a five by five square on my 8x10 tarp, gathered up in a bucket the corn gluten put down, weighed it on my kitchen scale, and calculated the spreader setting.

Should've been right, but I'm not sure. I couldn't see much if any material dropping down into the grass of my front lawn, and I had to get a neighbor kid to come over and check to see if she could see anything. She says she could. But both lawns didn't use anything like what I expected them to. At that rate, that 50 pound bag should last the next five years!

Did I apply it too lightly because the micrometer on the spreader is off?

Possible, but not probable.

Or was my kitchen scale inaccurate?

More than likely. It's played fast and loose with the pounds and ounces before.

Or did I simply overestimate the square footage of grass I have and actually have the preemergent down just right?

Also possible. When the Scott's people came, I could hardly see what they put down, either, and it seemed to be effective.

Well, we'll see. And if I get crabgrass, nutgrass, and volunteer rose of Sharon seedlings anyway, it may have nothing to do with the amount of corn gluten I spread this afternoon. I was consulting a gardening book afterwards to see if I needed to water the stuff in, and it said you're supposed to put down your preemergent before the forsythia are in full bloom!

Lord have mercy on fools and amateur gardeners!

Book Me-Me-Meme!

I've been tagged (thanks, Sandy!) with the book meme that's going around. I'd been thinking it'd be fun to play that, and here I have my chance.

Here's how it works:

To participate in the book tag.............Pick a book at least 123 pages long. Open that book to page 123. Find the fifth sentence and post the next three. Then tag five other people.

I'm assuming this means a book I'm currently reading. Hmm, which one? I have books-in-progress all over the house!

But since I got tagged on my houseblog, I'll choose the one with the page 123 excerpt that's most house-related. Here goes:

"'You can order the coal.'

'Very good, my lady. I fancy there will be some time between lunch and dinner to effect a clearance of the kitchen chimney, provided there is no interference from the police.'"*

Or as it would be in 2008, objections by the EPA!

Now that I've completed the selfish part of this meme, I'm afraid I have to bow out of Part 2, the tagging. Just because I'm reading (and re-reading!) when I ought to be working on my house doesn't mean the rest of you are!

But if you are reading something to help you work on your house, to reward you for having worked on your house, or to distract you from getting round to working on your house, open that volume to page 123 and leave a comment. I'd be interested to hear what you find!
(From Busman's Honeymoon, a Lord Peter Wimsey mystery novel by Dorothy L. Sayers, 1937)

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Sweetness and Light

This weekend was the annual Beaver County Maple Syrup Festival at Brady's Run Park. This afternoon I went up and joined in the happy throng.

This is my fourth or fifth Maple Syrup Festival since I moved to southeastern Pennsylvania, and the first I can remember that wasn't cold, wet, and sloppy with mud. Miracle of miracles, the sun came out yesterday and stayed out!

And so from miles around the people came, and came, and came, buzzing in like eager wasps round a jam jar for crafts, concerts, demonstrations, an all-you-could-eat pancake feast, and gallons of maple syrup produced right there in the park. The weather was fine, the atmosphere was festive, and I believe the County must have raised a handsome amount towards park upkeep and programs.

I did my bit, going home with a jug of syrup for me and one for my sister and brother-in-law in Kansas City. And of course, a bellyful of pancakes!

Here are some views of the day:

The line for the pancakes. It was even longer than it looks!

A craft booth

A blacksmith's display. Alas, the dual-hook hanger was way out of my budget.

Patience! The goal is in sight!

Yes, Virginia, it really is all the pancakes and real maple syrup you can eat!

Into the pancake lodge at last! It only took an hour and a half. The line was still coming in when I left-- nearly a half hour after they'd planned to stop serving.

I had-- well, never mind how many pancakes I ate. Hey, it was my first, last, and only meal for the day!

Volunteer pancake chefs

Grinding locally-grown buckwheat in the park gristmill. I bought some to take home.

In the sugar shack, enlightenment on the nature of maple sap, its collection, and its transformation into maple syrup

Collection tanks and the flow line to the sugar shack

Civil War reenactors break camp

I walked around the park awhile after the Festival was officially over. Letting things settle a bit, you see . . .

Thursday, April 3, 2008

I Didn't Mean to Do It

But this afternoon I weeded my front border.

And bought corn gluten to use as an organic pre-emergent on my lawn.

And raked out my side yard and the front parking strip.

I only meant to take pictures of the bulbs and perennials that were emerging. But I noticed how the little tufts of grass were invading the border around the daylily blades and I thought, "I don't want that in the photo!"

So I got down on my hands and knees to see if they'd come out easily.

Oh, yes, the ground was soft enough I could pull out the grass and a lot of their stolons, too.

Oh, look what a mess I've made of my lawn! Pulled-up grass tufts with dirt hanging from their roots, lying in straggly piles at the far end of the border.

That reminded me: I'm going to have to get the corn gluten down onto the lawn soon if it's to do its work. The local radio organic gardening experts say to apply it when the forsythia is in bloom. I haven't seen any yet, but surely that will happen any minute. And oh, dear, I'd been out with the car earlier and should have bought some then.

What time was it? Oh, a little after 4:00. Agway closes around 5:00. I'd better run over before I forget.

Wait, first check my AutoCAD drawing of my property and do a take-off to see how much yard I need to cover. Okay, roughly 1,700 square feet.

Half hour or forty minutes later, I'm back home with a 50 pound bag of corn gluten. At five pounds for every 250 square feet, that'll cover 2,500, way more grass than I've got.

Never mind. I'm not messing with the little 5 pound bags with the pretty graphics on the plasticized wrapper that'd cost me nearly four times as much for the same amount. I'll take the paper bag and make sure I keep the leftovers where it's dry so I can use it next year, too.

So now I have my corn gluten pre-emergent, but I also still have pulled-up grass carcasses on my front lawn.

Go get the rake, and a basin (the bushel basket is full of fir branches that need chipping). See that the sideyard is covered with bird seed remnants under the bird feeder, and dead red fronds from the arborvitae that got attacked by spider mites last fall.

Better start back there and rake that up, too.

Get the basin filled up. Go empty it, into-- what? Not the compost pile-- don't want all that millet in it. Oh, into a paper leaf bag. Bring the leaf bag into the side yard. Proceed to rake out the side yard, both my strip and the neighbors'. Up come bird seed shells. Up come dead arborvitae fronds. Up come last fall's leaves and up come the wan flattened corpses of last summer's hostas.

All goes into the bag, along with the dry sticks and heads of one of the Autumn Joy sedums, whose new growth was peeking coyly through the mulch. (Other one was still too soft, and I drew the line at getting out the nippers).

Finally I work my way up to the front border and deal with the rest of the grass invading it. Some of it is stubborn-- go fetch the garden fork and the weed digger. Scrape, dig, and pull; scrape, dig, and pull. Go after some other, unidentified weeds while I'm at it. Note the early signs of chickweed in the border-- damn. It's too small to get ahold of; it'll have to wait.

Rake up the weeding mess in the grass. Rake up the leaves that have been lying there all winter. Note that the strip of grass between the public sidewalk and the street looks like hell-- smothered with matted gray leaves and littered with the cigarette butts that some boor has been leaving up and down our block of late.

Got the rake out here, right? So use it.

I do. Happily, it's street sweeping night tonight on my side of the street, so I just rake all the nasty stuff out into the gutter. And hope the borough crew actually comes.

A lot of Thursday nights they don't.

It looks like rain. Hurry up, get the paper bag-- full now-- under cover. Get the broom and sweep the sidewalk and the curb. Take in the broom, the rake, the fork, and the weed digger. Be astonished at myself because I actually did some work in my yard before I actually had to do it.

Now if I can be that insouciantly diligent when the forsythia bloom and it's time to spread that corn gluten, my lawn just may stand a chance this year.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Adventures in Ladder Handling

Today the weather was warm, up in the 60s, and I took my new Little Giant 22 foot ladder outside to try it in the extension position.

No trouble getting the hinge undone and the two legs straightened out.

No trouble extending each leg so the ladder was in its full-length position.

But manuevering it up against the house? Lots of trouble there. Three times I tried it, and three times, when I'd worked my hands up the rungs to its center at the hinge, the ladder's weight and center of gravity were too much for me and I had to put it down.

No, actually, the first time it fell on my shoulder. No damage done, but not what you want.

The clouds were rolling in and it was starting to spit rain. So I quickly contracted each end. The ladder was still extended, though, and I decided to put it up against my back porch to see if it would reach the eaves and gutters. Not quite. Nowhere to lean it there anyway-- the aluminum gutters wouldn't take its weight, nor would the porch screens.

Okay, I still had the ladder upright and I needed to get it into the storage position. Released the hinges and whoops! the back side of the ladder came down in a rush, and thank goodness the hinge automatically catches at the A-frame position!

Sez I to myself, "Kate, ur doin it rong."

So after carrying the ladder back into the covered porch (just in time-- the rain began to pound down horizontally), I went inside and called the Little Giant customer service line.

First question, how does a shorty like me handle this or any extension ladder, especially when it's at full length?

I have my choice of three answers:

1) Get someone else to help me.
2) If no one's available, put some heavy object, like concrete blocks, down at the feet and brace the ladder feet against it/them.
3) Pump iron and develop more upper body strength (this was my suggestion, being satirical).

Second question, how do I fold it back up without it being such a thrilling experience?

The answer was simple and obvious. Lay the ladder down so the rungs are next to the ground. Release each hinge knob, then fold one leg up and over the other, till it's in storage position.

Oh yeah, right. Duh.

I unpacked the box with the accessories today, but I'm saving trying them out for later. Enough excitement for today!