Monday, December 29, 2008

A cross to bear

Actually, two crosses. Notice the pole in the following picture? It is one of two that used to support my clothesline. Notice how it is leaning?

Well, the high winds early Sunday morning did this.

And this morning I did the same thing to its twin. I had to laugh while dragging them to the street, imagining how it looked to the neighbors. I'm not sure the garbage guys will take them (the crosses, not the neighbors), but maybe someone in need of a homemade crucifix or two will happen by.

Not much else has happened this past week house and garden-wise, except for the freakin' weather. Seed catalogs have started arriving, so it's time to figure out just what I am going to do with that mess of a backyard.

P.S. Over xmas, my son and I watched Mr. Squirrel trying to climb the shepherd's hook to get at the bird feeders. The pole was icy enough that the squirrel kept sliding back down. Even though I had my camera in my hand, the batteries chose that moment to expire. Otherwise, we would be watching a cute YouTube video right now. The pole became climbable again, so I greased it with petroleum jelly today. Maybe I will get a second chance to play Wild Kingdom cinematographer.

P.P.S. The gas leak is scheduled to be fixed next week. Yay!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Who needs television?

A "free" day can hang on some like a burden, but not me. On the one hand, it's an opportunity to do nothing, and I'm always up for that. On the other, why waste it? My free day included a project, a chore, and an emergency.

First the project.

The original plans for the new room included a spot for the litter box, but I did not want it out in the open. Enter the "cat washroom" from Plow and Hearth. It arrived the other day, but some (all) assembly was required.

It was well packaged and the instructions seemed straightforward. Step 1 was easy.

Step 2 could have used a bit more exposition or a better illustration, because at Step 3 I realized I had already goofed. Then it was smooth sailing until Step 7.

Notice something missing? The door was supposed to be attached in Step 6.

In situ. Not sure why a cat needs a towel rack - shoot, they don't even need toilet paper because what else is a tongue for? - but what the hey.

None of the litter boxes from my current collection will fit inside, so I have not introduced Fern to her new potty spot. But I was hoping to feed her on top of the thing. Currently, she will eat only out of the dog's bowl, which creates some logistical problems. So far, she is not thrilled with my idea, plus is cranky from being hungry. In a battle of wills with a cat, the cat usually wins, but I'm going to give it a few more days.

Now, the chore.

One of our addition's residents clears our streets, so when I saw him go by, a wave of slush curling up from his plow, I realized the time to shovel the driveway was now. Fortunately, the aforementioned neighbor opened up the end of my driveway for me, after expressing amazement (for the third year in a row) that I don't yet have a snow blower. My next door neighbor wandered over, shovel in hand, to ask me if I could catsit for them. Then he felt obligated to help me. (This neighbor owes me about 99 favors already.) Still, I made me some muscles by the time I was done.

That picture makes my driveway look longer than the 50 feet it actually is.

Yesterday's post included a photo of my ornamental grasses encased in ice. I was amazed that the one near the porch was still upright. Well, I bumped its supporting structure while shoveling yesterday and it fell into a heap.

Last, the emergency.

Around 8:30 last night, I let the dog out. She has a habit of peeing on the patio, so I followed her out to chase her into the yard proper. While waiting for her to do her business, I heard this small beep...beep...beep. It was coming from the gas meter. Huh.

My first inclination was to ignore it. After all, if I had not gone outside, I would not have heard it at all. (Am I the Queen of Denial or what?) Then I Googled "gas meter beeping" but that was not very helpful. So I went back out and listened. Yep, still there. I stuck my head down closer to the meter and SMELLED GAS!

Even I know this is an emergency, so I went back in and called the gas company. Help was on the way.

Thirty minutes later, help was still on the way. This is when having a hobby comes in very handy, as I was knitting furiously and nervously while watching out the window. Maybe I wouldn't have been so nervous if I hadn't seen the following photo in Friday morning's Journal Gazette.

Yep, broken gas line. Knowing that not only does a gas line run to my house, but gas mains also run along the utility easements on both the west and north sides of my property did not help.

Finally a very nice, personable, good humored (and good looking!) fellow showed up, the kind of guy that generates confidence in his abilities and his expertise. He too heard the beep (I'm not crazy!) and determined that there was a leak (still not crazy!) and it was before the gas meter, so I was not paying to pollute the atmosphere (what good luck!) He tightened down a joint, which helped, but said the meter and its external plumbing would need replacing. My case was a "grade 2" emergency; in other words, not a must-fix-now emergency but a should-fix-soon emergency. He assured me I was safe, I could use my gas appliances, etc. and they would try to fix it Saturday.

Which brings me to issuing a blanket THANK YOU to all the people who cannot spend the day making couch dents while the weather goes to hell. Initially, I was grateful not to be a paper deliverer or a truck driver, completely forgetting about the medical professionals and public safety personnel and utility workers who keep us safe in not very safe conditions. Time to stop whining about my job, where I work in a nice, clean, warm, friendly environment.

P.S. In between all this fun, I did view some wildlife in my own backyard. Mr. Squirrel had to abandon the Telephone Wire Highway and snaked through the back roads of the privat hedge instead. It was still rough going. And while I was idly watching the usual juncos, sparrows, house finches, etc. a huge HAWK flew into the the yard and perched in a shrub. His prospective meals flew off as soon as he showed up, and soon he left as well. Wish I had been less stunned and more reflexive in a photography sort of way. He was a beauty.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Oh, the weather outside is frightful

For once, Chicken Little was right: the sky is falling. Or something is falling out of the sky. Rain? Snow? Freezing rain? Slush? Hard to tell when you can't see out the windows.

Power at home (despite the flickering of the lights) but no power at the office - the perfect storm! I planned to glue my butt to the couch all day, but the poor birds had a problem: icicle bars on the feeders prevented access.

Even goodies from the wild were locked away.

So I ventured out, thinking maybe the crap in the driveway was movable. Not yet, so I checked out the damage around mi casa.

The Japanese maple is not liking its first winter in situ.

Obligatory artsy fartsy shot of ice encased asplenifolia branches against a gray sky.

Ornamental grasses sagging. Notice neighbors vehicles in the background. My garage may be full of crap, but at least I can park my car in it, thank god.

My temperature-indicating rhododendron will not be unfurling their leaves until it warms up enough to melt their icy coat.

Even the chicken wire is a thing of beauty.

The lights keep dimming, so I am going to post this while I can. Besides, there is a butt dent in the couch with my name on it.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Joys of Homeownership

I would be the first to say that the joys of home ownership are greatly exaggerated. There is always something in need of attention, and if there isn't, I worry about what might need attention next. Sometimes I even have disaster dreams, where the house is on fire and/or the roof is caving in and/or the crawl space is flooded and/or a tornado is right outside the door.

But most tasks are mundane. Last Thursday it was carpet cleaning. After months of bootie-clad subcontractors trying not to track stuff throughout the house, I decided it was time to call the carpet cleaners. My timing was a little off, though. I try to wait until after the ground freezes to minimize the amount of fresh dirt the dog brings in. I thought I was in the clear until I woke up this morning to rain. The straw is helping but not quite enough.

I'm still putting the house back together after Thursday's upheaval, and am about 95% there. I rearranged a few things as well, relocating the love seat and rabbit cage to the room formerly used for dining, moving the dining room furniture to the family room to see if I can convince myself that next year I can combine the kitchen and family room into one big hearth room.

Other mundane tasks involve plumbing. The sink in my bathroom periodically plugs up. Recently, I resorted to pouring Drano down the drain a few times, but it didn't help much. Plunger time. A plumber once showed me the trick of plunging up; instead of trying to force the clog down through the plumbing, you use the plunger to suck up (so to speak). I tried this the other day and was rewarded with what looked like a black turd, presumably made of congealed Noxema and hair. I grabbed that sucker before it could slide back down the drain and now that drain drains beautifully.

The toilets are an ongoing battle. Mine in the so-called master bath occasionally won't flush, but I have learned over the years that if I just let it rest for a while, whatever is making it recalcitrant melts enough that the toilet will flush again without resorting to the plunger. And then there is the flapper and chain thing. A while back, the flapper and its attached chain became unattached, a situation I resolved with a safety pin. But I didn't shorten the chain enough and the extra would get caught under the flapper, which resulted in the toilet running unless I jiggled the handle. Everytime I flushed the toilet, I would think, I should fix that. Well, the other day, the safety pin rusted through. I replaced it with another, and in the process inadvertently shortened the chain. Voila! No more handle jiggling required.

I'll leave you with one more handy household repair hint, also involving plumbing. If a pipe springs a leak, it can be sealed with plastic electrician's tape. Just wrap it around the leaky area. This is not only cheap and effective, it may be indefinite. I'll let you know if the trap under the kitchen sink ever resumes leaking.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Home Sweet Home

Wednesday morning the cat sounded like she was suffering from an asthma attack. I peeked into the dining room to see what was up. There she sat, on "her" chair by the window, wheezing over a wild rabbit who was daintily cleaning up spilt safflower seed on the other side of the pane. Poor Fern!

Since it was getting no action other than from rabbits, I moved the window feeder to the other side of the house where all the other bird feeders are, to see if anyone (anyone? anyone?) is brave enough to check it out. So far, still no takers.

The birds are not even too interested in all the straw I spread around the backyard Tuesday night. It was typical Indiana gray complete with drizzle, which was turning my churned up backyard into a mud pit. Betsy seems genetically incapable of avoiding mud, so in desperation I paid premium price for two bales of straw. I think I need two more, but at least now the meter readers and I can traverse the yard without turning our footwear into concrete boots.

Spreading the straw brought back memories of my previous life, living in the country and gardening and raising chickens, and an even earlier life of horse wrangling at a summer camp. Bales of straw still break apart in "books" and it still looks like spun gold scattered across the ground. I wore overalls and actually carried tools in those funny little pockets on the legs; the pocket of my hooded sweatshirt collected bits of chaff. Wednesday morning when the dog went out, the straw was stiff with frost under her feet.

I have a habit of "borrowing" photos I find on blogs, to use as wallpaper. Right now my PC at work displays a sheep under an apple tree on a New England hillside. That sheep makes me ache a bit for the country life I left behind, and I wonder if I will ever go back. Thanks, Sheep Gal.

Meanwhile, I am enjoying my home improvements more and more. Sometimes it's the little things, like the carriage lights outside the patio door that illuminate part of the backyard at night. Sometimes it's how pleasing the colors that my daughter picked are. Sometimes it's the security of a new roof, the comfort of a new furnace, the enormity of everything I have done over the past few years to make my house my own.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Why We Invite People Over

I suppose there are some individuals who invite people over to their homes because they want to see their friends and family. And I do too. But it also gives me a kick in the arse to raise the housekeeping standards around here for at least a day or two. Housework is one of those things that gets noticed only if it doesn't get done.

Since my SO comes over a couple of times a week, I at least drag the vacuum around the house and check the status of the main bathroom on a regular basis. And laundry gets done. And sometimes that is about it.

I was commiserating with an old friend about the cleaning freak-out that was about to occur since a work friend was coming for coffee today. My old friend said what she does is make sure the kitchen and bathroom are spotless, pick up what she can, and, if there is time, vacuum.

My MO is to concentrate on the rooms that are in the least state of disarray, since it doesn't take much to get them in order, and leave the worst for last. The problem is I frequently run out of time and/or energy before I get to the worst. So the worst gets worse and worse until it looks the worstest.

The worst is my kitchen, but I decided to follow my old friend's lead and tackle that first. That took most of last night, but now I can find my breakfast bar, and the floor, while not clean enough to eat off, is looking good. This morning I took care of the lighter tasks, including cat box and rabbit cage. I even dusted!

I keep wondering why can't I simply spend about 20 minutes a day on housework? My house is small and I am the only two-legged living here. It seems 20 minutes a day would keep the place looking not just inhabitable but downright spring-cleaning clean. But I don't do that.

Another problem with having people over is the household quirks. Today's concern was the toilet in the main bathroom that sometimes does not refill after a flush. I checked to make sure the tank was full, then decided if my work friend used the bathroom, I would follow suit in a reasonable amount of time and make sure it refilled.

I baked banana bread and brewed coffee and my friend arrived and we had a nice visit, sitting in the new room and watching the birds. And now I have a nice clean house to enjoy, even if it looks like someone else lives here.