Thursday, December 26, 2013

La Folie de Ma Vie

I should have made this post over three weeks ago.  Never mind, I'm making it now as the year dies down, before the thoughts and sensations that gave rise to it fade away.

Early in the morning of the 3rd of this month my living room renovation was to the point where I could refill the bookcases flanking my fireplace.  And it didn't give me pleasure to get it done, it made me disgusted with myself and sad.

The books had been stored in boxes in the guest bedroom since August of 2008, and in all that time I'd forgotten much of what I had.  Or at least, I'd forgotten the implications of all the books I had.  For once I got them all shelved, I felt empty, disquieted, disturbed. I hardly knew what to do with myself.

For looking at those bookcases was like peering into a window to the past.  There are books on music criticism and music history.  Musical scores I've carried to symphony concerts and scores I've sung.  There are plays and essays and poetry.  Books on art history, church history, secular history.  On art and architecture, ancient, medieval, and modern; on icons and stained glass and Gothic cathedrals.  All the subjects and pursuits that make for a civilized life, sidelined, ignored, for years. The works of so many great, entertaining, and wise authors and composers sat again on my shelves: Tasso and Browning, Shakespeare and Chaucer, Lamb and Emerson.  Beethoven, Schubert, and Berlioz (always Berlioz!).  Eusebius, Schaff, and Chadwick; Ruskin, Conant, and Arnheim. Coulton and Tuchman.  Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Frank Lloyd Wright.  Where had they been these past years?  Where had I?

There was a time when I sat down and read those books.  When I sang and played that music.  Back when I had a full time architecture career and felt like I was contributing to the beauty and order of the world.  I was a better person then, before I began to dissipate my energies on computer card games and checking my Facebook Notifications tab every fifteen minutes . . .

 Well.  I kept at the work of putting my living room back together.  By the following Tuesday I had all the tools and debris and the dog kennel cleared out and could see and clean the floor.  By early on Thursday the 5th I had the two-seat sofa moved back in from the front room and the chest of drawers pulled in from the dining room to carry my 1970s-vintage stereo system and the lamp I got two or three years ago and had never used (getting the linen chest out of the dining room clears the way to finish stripping the wallpaper in there).
By Sunday the 8th I was in a fair way of looking at it all and emulating God on the sixth day of creation, standing in the middle of the room admiring my work and thinking it was Very Good.  And since then I've cleaned off the sill of the portal to the 1st floor hall and even decorated for Christmas.

But still.  But still.  I can't shake the feeling that I've screwed up seriously.   It's not that I'm spending time on house renovation instead of reading The Stones of Venice.  Redoing the house is an artistic pursuit in itself.  Rather, I feel I've betrayed the whole way of life my books and music represent. I've made several bad career moves these past few years and I don't think I'll ever get back to my life the way I hoped it would be.

And if I spend too damn much time fooling around on the Innerwebz, I'll about guarantee that outcome.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

O Gosh, Such Excitement!

The tall bookcase, the tall-black-used-to-be-natural-teak-Scandinavian-Modern-1978-vintage bookcase, is finally up and loaded.

It only took some drilled pilot holes (through the plastic sleeves), two sets of new black metal shelf supports, a couple ounces of wood glue, a couple-three more coats of shellac, and quite a few whacks with the rubber mallet to convince it to come together.

And even after all that, it was still wanting to gap at the top once I stood it in its corner again.

"Take that!"  


"And that!!"


"And that!!"


Another coat of shellac to cover up the evidence, let it dry a day or so, and by Friday it was ready to receive back all the LPs and books that have been sitting in boxes in my front room the past, oh dear, five years or so.

Of course I managed somehow to put the new shelf supports at the wrong height.

Never mind.  I was not enlarging any more holes so I could change it.  No law said I had to put all the books back the way they used to be (even if I did print out an old picture as a guide). Maybe this time I'd do it more logically and better.

So they're in.  And the walnut veneer bookcase (which used to belong to my grandmother) is in the process of getting levellers on its right end to accommodate my sloping floor (had to paint the white plastic part black.  Looked glaring otherwise).  And last night I stayed up till 4:00 AM cleaning out my workshop so I can go back to cutting trim for the stairhall and new stops for the windows.  Not that I didn't start that task two or three months ago.

My excuse for the slowness is that I'm substitute teaching during the day most days and within a hour or two of leaving school I'm working every weekday evening at the Big Blue Box Store.

If I were truly dedicated to renovating my house, I'd avoid the computer and the Internet and work-work-work on the house until I fell into bed.

I am not that virtuous or disciplined.  But millimeter by millimeter, inch by inch, I'm getting things done.

By Christmas 2014, I may even have the wallpaper in the dining room stripped.  Now that would be excitement.

Saturday, November 9, 2013


Sitting in its corner, pretending to be done
It will probably shock you to learn that the tall living room bookcase I started to redo in black last Christmas still isn't done.

No, I guess it wouldn't shock you to learn that the tall living room bookcase I started to redo in black last Christmas still isn't done.

Oh, it's refinished, finally.  Took forever to strip off the crummy oil-based black paint job over white primer, but sometime this summer I finally got that done.  And about a week ago I finally got the black shellac to the point where I like it.

Give it a couple-three days to harden up and cure, and it should be all ready to reinsert the shelves and put the books back in. Right?

But what do you do when you can't remember where you put the shelf hardware or how you even held up the shelves in the first place?

This bookcase has had many shelf-support solutions in its long career.  It came with these bent heavy-gauge wires whose ends fit into little holes in the sides of the bookcase.  Grooves were routed into the side edges of the particle-board shelves to receive the bent part of the support wires.  Trouble is, that method didn't keep the bookcase sides from pushing out from the pressure of all the books and records I keep in it.

The round piece is brown under the shellac, of course
So back in the '80s a woodworker friend of mine retrofitted the shelves each with four plastic disks that receive a screw which fits into a plastic sleeve sunk into the carcase sides.  This did a good job of keeping the whole thing together, but didn't allow for any adjustments to the shelf spacing. From photos I took before I unloaded this bookcase I know the shelves didn't all correspond with the sleeve locations.  And I definitely remember there being some brass shelf spoons I took off.  But I couldn't remember where the aitch I put them last December.

By Thursday or Friday of this week I found them, in the tray of my toolbox.  But only four of them, enough for one shelf only.  And I can't find but three of the twelve black screws I should have for the other three shelves.

And maybe it doesn't matter whether I can find any of this or not.  Because . . .  because . . .  even with some replacement screws I found (intending to paint the heads black, no problem), with the black finish I can't see to get the screws into the sleeves in the sides of the carcase!!

I've been trying the last three days, and it doesn't matter:  Night, day, with a worklight, without a worklight-- with my lousy eyesight I simply cannot see where anything is.  And yes, I shellacked the white plastic sleeves black as well.

Dig the scratches.  And the plastic sleeves I can't seem to hit.
I've already made a mess of my new shellac finish, since the plastic cams or whatever they are that are routed into the shelves have a little protrusion that fits into the sleeve on the bookcase sides.  That didn't matter when it was finished natural teak, but now that it's shellac, I've got scratch marks all over.

Actually, the only reason why I'm not throwing tools across the room and screaming at the top of my lungs is because it is shellac, and therefore repairable.

But I still can't get those screws lined up.

So what should I do?  Get my friend Hannah* to come hold the worklight so maybe I can get at least two of those screw-in shelves in, and thereby return the favor for all the weekends I helped her with some computer work she had to figure out?

Maybe I should invest in some more packs of black metal shelf supports and put all the shelves on those. Oh, and Dremel off the protrusions so they slide in smoothly.

But then the bookcase might go back to falling apart on me once it's reloaded.

Or maybe I could solve that problem by working out something with wires and turnbuckles that'll go behind the books and keep the sides together.

It's too damned complicated having to do all this for a 35 year old Scandinavian Modern particle-board bookcase.  After all, isn't my time worth something?  Better I should have just chucked it and bought a new one.

But I've been online again looking at the price of new ones, and my time isn't worth what they would cost me.  $300 and up for things that aren't built as well as the one I've got.

Maybe I will look into turnbuckles.  It'll give it a high-tech industrial feel.  Just right for my Victorian/Arts and Crafts living room.  Right.

Meanwhile, I'm feeling very, very stupid.  And spending a lot of time I don't have just spinning my wheels.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Crape Myrtle Watch, 130703

So how are the crape myrtles doing, subsequent to my switching two of them around last fall?

Well, the one-that's-supposed-to-be-a-Bayou-Marie-but-isn't is doing fine in its new location down next to the step.  It's got fat bright-reddish buds on it and looks ready to burst into bloom any day now.

The one-that's-supposed-to-be-a-Pixie-White-but-isn't is still making up its mind what it's going to do.  Or maybe it's sulking at having been dug out and moved to the top of the patch.  At any rate, though its wood is green it still hasn't broken dormancy.  I read online about a crape myrtle that didn't start leafing out again until the August after it was transplanted, so I'm giving mine time.

One of the New Orleans specimens is doing quite well, thank you.  I anticipate flowers from it very soon.

However.  However.  The other New Orleans is not doing as well.  You could say it has suffered from a disadvantage.  Don't know how I didn't notice it before, but it is tiny compared to its mate planted at the same time.  The latter has completely overshadowed it.

So to give it a chance and to fill out my new front garden bed a little more, this afternoon I dug it up and moved it to the opposite corner of the lower plot, by the west entrance to the path.  Yes, I know autumn would have been a better time. But the late great gardener Christopher Lloyd liked to say that the best time to do anything in the garden is when you're thinking about it and you have the time.  Besides, how was it going to survive all summer under there?

Took longer than I'd imagined.  Crape myrtle roots go deep, but I couldn't dig to the extent of them since this one's roots were so tangled up with those of its companions.  And then the hole I dug for it was full of rocks at a comparable high level.  Afraid for a minute there I couldn't get enough dirt out of it to get the shrub in.

But I did, and for the record, this is how it looks as of today,

mulched with compost and watered in.  We'll see how it does.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Dabbling in Dirt

Having considered the matter these past few days, I've determined that literal dirt, like the figurative kind, is best kept to oneself.

It started with an idea I had last Wednesday.  Obviously, when it came to the excess dirt in the south garden bed, shovelling it into the cart and then bagging it up or whatever was not going to work.  Then, too, the possibility of coming with a pickup truck seemed increasingly remote.  If I were going to get this soil to my friends' house, I'd have to think of another way.

Well, how about this?

I took one of my big wheeled trash bins, and lined it with a 45 gallon lawn bag.  I then shovelled the dirt into it-- twelve scoops per bag worked out all right--then wheeled it over to the side of the yard, tipped the trash bin over, hauled out the dirtbag (sorry, couldn't resist), and slung it up on the rock mulch under the Norway maple.  Where it could lie pending further ideas.

I think there's 16 or 17 bags here, all told

Did three bags like this on Wednesday, and was thinking of asking my friends if they knew anybody with a truck who'd be willing and able to help.  But Thursday came and I was looking at my front yard.  At the need for soil in the new garden bed where the sod as dug out.  At the rest of the lawn where I've dug out all that soil to try to root out the nutsedge.  I'd planned the make up the difference with compost, but unless I wanted to commit myself to a major tilling operation, that wouldn't make sense.  Even if the yellowjackets let me get to it, it wouldn't make sense to try to grow grass in compost.

So I shifted gears.  Mentally, I mean.  I kept on loading up the bags-- even though it was raining when I started and I wasn't all that thrilled about it-- but with a different destination in mind.  For while I dislike being an Indian-giver (i.e., making promises then going back on them), I see I need the dirt from my backyard in my front yard more than my friends in New Brighton do in theirs.  And as depressing and onerous and Volga-boatmen-convicts-hauling-the-barges a process somehow schlepping those bags of dirt to my front yard would be, trying to boost them into the back of my PT Cruiser and unloading them again in New Brighton would be even worse.  Not to say impossible doing it single-handedly, but close to it.

Got the tomato bed flattened out before time to head for work. So at least that was done.
Almost there
That afternoon, too, I talked on the phone to my friends, explained the haulage problem, and begged off.  Happily, it was okay with them-- I think half of it on their part was wanting to do me a favor and give me a place to put the dirt.

That was one very heavy problem solved, or at least eliminated.  Still had to figure out how to get the bags into my cart to get them round to the front.

But today, I discovered I could turn a defect into an advantage.  A defect in my backyard walkway, that is.  There's a place by the Norway maple where one walkway slab sits a good inch or more higher than its neighbor.  So if I tipped the cart over on its front end and dragged a bag of dirt into it,

I could brace the wheels against the walkway lippage, like so

and pull it upright with the bag in it.

That done, I could empty the dirt into the cart, ready to take around front.

So good for me, I got seven bags of vegetable garden dirt (primarily a mix of compost and sand) into the new front garden bed.

While I was at it, I rejiggered the brick border at the toe of the slope so it'd come out square,

Swiped a couple of matching bricks from another part of the yard
and mixed the remainder of a carton of Preen into the lower part of the new garden bed.

We'll see if it does any good-- it was pretty old.

If I had nothing better to do I'd also figure out how much the average shovelful of that soil weighs and calculate how much dirt I moved.

But I do have better things to do.  Like plant stuff in the dirt I shifted.  But that's a separate post.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

A Bit of a Break

Me, showing off
Today was my birthday, but I had no time to celebrate in the usual way.  No cake, no ice cream, no kicking up of the heels.

For that matter, except for some dirt-shifting late in the afternoon, I didn't really get any work done, either.

On the house or garden, I mean.

This is because I had the annual recertification training for substitute teaching in the morning, work at the Big Blue Box Store in the late afternoon and evening, and errands in between.

But that doesn't mean I can't be festive here on the houseblog.  And frivolous, too.

"Frivolous" is exactly the way to describe one of my errands this afternoon.  For I have an Idea of what I want to do with the paving in my new front garden bed, though I don't have the cash to do it and won't have it for the foreseeable future.  Nevertheless, being in the neighborhood I stopped at a local stoneyard and checked out the flagstones.

This is Colonial wall stone.  It matches my bluestone windowsills and some other flagstone paving I have on the property.  Nevertheless, I don't like it as much as I do this:

It's called West Mountain stone, and it comes from over by Scranton.  I really love the colors.  Wouldn't it be great if I came across someone who had some stone similar to this on their property that they wanted to get rid of?  Barring that, for this while I can only dream.

There's that.  But I can also treat you to some pretty flower shots from my garden, of what's currently in bloom and blossoms from earlier this spring.

Flowering quince, backyard west border, April 21st
Columbines, backyard, east border, May 12th

Kerria japonica pleniflora, backyard, north fence; also from May 12th
Lilac; "Miss Kim," I think.  Side door, May 18th
"Brother Cadfael" rose, front border, June 2nd
"Don Juan" rose, west side of house, June 8th
"Clio" rose, back porch steps, June 11th
There are a lot more I didn't get decent pictures of this year.  But I hope you enjoy these.  I only regret not being able to depict how wonderful the lilacs and roses have smelled, too.  Maybe I can convey a little of it in a haiku I wrote about three weeks ago:

Through open window
Scent of lilac breathes rapture
Soft sultry May night

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Sound of Crickets in the Night

You know what happens when you put out a call like this on Facebook?
Help! I have some garden soil I need to get out of my yard and some friends who live seven miles away who need it in theirs. Anybody have a pickup truck I can borrow to load it onto?
Nothing, that's what.  Crickets.  Because you have sensible friends who know that it's not just their pickup you want to borrow, but their shovels as well, and also probably (ok, certainly) their muscles and time to wield them.  And that's assuming that any friends who might have pickup trucks even see your post, given Facebook's arbitrary practice as to whose news appears in whose newsfeed.

I posted that plaintive appeal last night around midnight, after an afternoon of fun in the south vegetable garden bed, the one where the tomatoes are to go.  Spent about an hour and fifteen minutes weeding it (though it seemed a lot longer),

then started sieving the dirt into the garden cart.  I have too much and some friends up above New Brighton need some yard fill, but I didn't want to give it to them complete with roots and weeds.
And when I considered how much dirt is involved (and they can't help me, because the wife is older and the husband has a bad back), I was feeling very discouraged.  Like existential-angst discouraged.  Why don't I have some nice, useful, significant-other type guy attached to me who could help me do this?  Why am I not making enough money so I could hire it done?  How could I ever bag up all this and load it into my car?  I'm pretty strong, but that would take forever!

Thus the idea to appeal for a pickup truck.  Finished filling up the cart with cleaned dirt-- and slow work it was-- parked it over to the side with a yard bag over it in case of rain, and focussed on transplanting the volunteer lettuces.
(If they want to pop up without my having to plant them, the least I can do is give them a safe home for the season.)

But as I say, nobody (at least not so far) has risen up to be a hero and champion in the way of pickup trucks.  Not even after I pleaded for mercy for the tomatoes:
This is kind of urgent-- I can't plant my tomatoes until I remove the mound that's built up in the garden bed.
So this afternoon I took stopgap measures and potted them all up in gallon pots using the soil from the bed where they'll eventually grow.  Sunk them deep in the bigger pots to give them more support and encourage them to develop roots from the leaf nodes.  Should give the "Red Brandywine" a chance at survival, if anything can.

Other than that, dumping yesterday's cartload of dirt in the new planting bed in the front, and digging out a few more trowels full of nutsedge-infested soil from the lawn, I've let things sit today.  Let's give it awhile longer.  Maybe there is somebody out there I know who's dying to haul a few loads of dirt for gas money and free pop.  Maybe my friends in New Brighton know somebody who has a truck.  Can't hurt to ask.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Plugging Away-- and Getting Plugged

Just a little progress report.  All garden related, of course.

My friend brought the tomatoes he promised to give me to church this morning.  One "Italian Goliath,"
one "Red Brandywine,"
one "Brandymaster,"
and one miscellaneous cherry.  Just now they're all leggy seedlings in 8 oz. yogurt cups.  The "Red Brandywine" broke on the way home, which is too bad, since I like me a Brandywine tomato.  But maybe it can be nursed and recover.

They won't get planted for awhile, though:  Over the years the garden bed that I'm rotating the tomatoes to has gotten so mounded up with soil amendments that it's more than a foot higher at the center than at the edges.  And the beds in the round vegetable garden aren't that big.  It needs to be levelled off before anything goes into it.  Oh, yeah, and it needs weeded before that.

Which didn't happen this afternoon or evening.  What did happen is more digging and spading of dirt off the bare places in the front lawn, where the nutsedge is emerging where I dug it out before.  Not as thickly yet as before, but still there.  It's very depressing having to deal with this, such a waste of time and topsoil, too, but what can you do?

Finished cutting up sticks and shifting leaves from the part of the open compost pile I began cleaning off yesterday.
There was a little finished compost at the bottom of it, which I spread on the new planting bed in the front garden.

At least, I think it was compost.  May have just been a mounded bit of topsoil.

Whether or no, after that it was time to make a new compost pile where that bit had been.  Didn't have a lot of "green" material, unless you count the Virginia creeper I pulled off the fence.
Organic parfait
Instead I made layers of grassy sod and leftover unmulched leaves.  Yeah, I know you're not supposed to put dirt in the compost heap. But what else am I supposed to do with all those turves?

A lot of the leaves I was using for that I shook off the branches and sticks that came off the limb that fell down last year.  There weren't too many large ones left on the pile to cut up for kindling today, so I just took the leaf rake and drew the leaf residue off the old pile to use it on the new.

Where things got left, in a hurry
Or I did until some apparent residents of the old pile took exception to this disturbance. First I knew of it was when something  tried to fly up my right nostril.  I sniffed out violently and tried to bat it away, whereupon it stung me twice on my nose right above the lip, on the septum.  Ow!

Quick but careful removal of self into the house-- don't want to be precipitous and trip on the porch stairs-- all the time hoping it wasn't a honeybee, since their stingers remain in and you have to tweeze them out.  Quick, find the baking soda and make a poultice with water.  Dab it on the affected area . . .  know one looks like an idiot, but never mind.  It kept the swelling down where the creature plugged me, and within five minutes the pain was gone too.

Returned to the scene of the incident, though not to do any more raking.  Yellowjackets, it was.  There were still three or four hovering around.  Not going to mess with that pile again until I've consulted the exterminator.

So as much as I wanted to get that pile turned for the first time in three years, it was time to drop it and do something else instead.

Like plant the Berberis thunbergii "Crimson Pygmy" barberry I bought Thursday night from the Outside Lawn & Garden department at work.  I was thinking I needed a reddish specimen in front of the right-hand Alberta spruce . . . but one will do, since my neighbor to the east has four or five or these.

She was out in her front yard, too, while I was planting this.  I told her about the yellowjacket sting.  I mean, I didn't expect to go into anaphylactic shock from it, never have before, but I know some people develop that reaction when they get older.  So in case I suddenly quit breathing and keeled over . . .

I didn't.  I finished getting the red barberry into the ground and went on to transplant a few volunteer Blackeyed Susans into the little strip next to the Siberian iris at the toe of the slope to the sidewalk.

Still so much to do, but the light ran out.  It'll all get done-- eventually-- if I keep plugging away at it.  At this rate I should be able to go back to working on the inside of the house by, oh, late September or so.