It’s been so hard to get anything done lately but finally I achieved real progress today.  I did paint touch-ups around the house and when telling Charlotte about it I realized I used red, blue, yellow and white.  Gee, I could have been painting a portrait.  In the afternoon I worked in the yard and re-edged the river rock plant bed.  Before and after shots:

Before It’s pretty amazing the difference.  I have an edging spade–I know, crazy, right?–and it has a very flat blade that inserts nicely and creates an edge as you go.  By cutting down into the sod you cut the rhizomes (runners) from the grass in the lawn so that you minimize the lawn-creep into the flower beds.

I still need to do the rest of the edges all over the yard, but this is the place where it’s the most noticeable.  Further down in the lawn I need to transplant lilies of the valley while I re-edge so that job will be a tad more involved.

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Hurricane Sandy

We have been very fortunate to be only minimally affected by the storm.  Tuesday night was pretty awful, the wind sounded like a train passing very close to the house.  I was reading “Winter Holiday” to Margaret and as it happened we were on the bit where Dick and Dorothea are on the sledge with the sail and are in a blizzard flying on the ice.  Very appropriate, but really, the sound effects were unnecessary, tyvm.

Hubs and I went outside briefly but I felt that one could just as easily be beaned by branches while standing on the front lawn as if you were driving your car out in the weather.  We scurried back in.  Power went out at about 9pm and by some strange but wonderful miracle we had power back within 24 hours!  I spent Wednesday morning picking up branches but really the cleanup took maybe an hour or two all told.  Not bad at all, particularly when neighbors have whole trees uprooted.

We’ve had people over for hot showers and hot meals–I’m so glad we have lots of food in the freezer!  We’ll have more tonight so I’ll see what we can defrost.  It’s kind of nice to have extra people to cook for.

I think our preparations were pretty good.  I still worry about the trees when we have a big storm but I’m not exactly going to cut down the seven or so giant oak trees “just in case”.  We brought in some of the small potted herbs, and harvested our potatoes.  Oddly enough the potatoes were already sprouting but they were still small plants.  I’m not sure what is up with THAT.  It was super neat when we dumped the potato buckets because in three of them we found newts!  Two were adults and one was a baby (an eft, I think they are called).  We were careful to leave them alone, though we were worried they got hurt in the dumping process.  They did go away when our backs we turned so I hope they weren’t hurt too badly.

I threw extra rocks on the tarp over the woodpile and it didn’t budge–probably because it was tucked in tightly and had 200 lbs of rocks on top.  We winterized a lot of stuff, taking in the hammock and hoses and lawn chairs.  Pretty much anything that wasn’t nailed down got put in the shed or otherwise secured.  Our shed has a tendency to come open in a big wind so I rolled a giant log and left it on end to hold the doors shut.  Hubs said that if the wind is strong enough to blow THAT open, it’s strong enough to blow the shed over.

We have lots of batteries on hand that we rarely use.  I found that the LED flashlight was better than the ordinary ones, so I think I’ll get some more of those in time.  We have one flashlight that I got as a freebie from a vendor while I was still working, the thing must be almost 15 years old since we stopped using Ingram Micro years before I left!  The thing just won’t quit!

We had some of the glow jewelry left from parties but I think some of the thicker glow sticks will be a good idea for next time.  They are pretty bright and will provide night lights for my scared-of-the-dark kids.  We did put glowing bracelets around the flash light handles in their rooms so they could find them, but the girls didn’t want to just keep the flashlights on, bless their hearts.  The glow sticks are nice since they are not an open flame, nor do they need batteries.

I’m also glad I filled my tank before the storm.  We were advised that the governor is rationing gas–actually not so much rationing but scheduling when people can buy.  Odd license plate numbers can only get gas on odd days, and vice versa.  I think I have half a tank still.  I’d have more gas but I had arthroscopic knee surgery yesterday!  How amazing is that they they still went ahead with it!  My surgeon said he didn’t have power at his house, and a number of the nursing staff said the same.  I imagine that the hospital was a nice place to go for them–lights and heat plus hot showers.  I have to say that everyone at Hackensack Hospital was so very nice.  So it was a good thing we had enough gas to get there and back since it’s not our closest hospital, it’s the one where my surgeon works.

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DIY Tricks, follow up

Following up to my prior post about DIY Tricks, I tried letting the peroxide sit for longer on the pan and it really was no better for me than waiting about 5-10 minutes.  I’ve been using Barkeeper’s Friend and I find it works better then ordinary cleanser, so I’m settling for Barkeeper’s Friend plus elbow grease for now.

I’ve been quite busy with the kids this summer–this is the fallout for not having regular full day camp.  I think the kids like it, me not so much.  They have found many new and interesting ways to argue and bicker.  My current trick is to separate them wen they fight and then when they come out of timeout they have to do a chore.  If nothing else the windows on my sliding doors will be so sparkly.  They are also good at sweeping the kitchen floor, that particular job is Charlotte’s favorite right now.  Can you see it? a four year old sweeping with a full-sized broom.  Watch out for the back swing!

We did do one week that was nothing but adventures.  We went to Hoboken one day and played at Elysian Fields.  I want to stop and appreciate the name “Elysian Fields” which is the name for the ancient Greek heaven.  It is also said to be the place where the first organized game of baseball was played.  If that isn’t evocative and lyrical …  We brought a picnic lunch, I brought a novel, the girls played and got wet in the sprinkler and I read.  We even found a stupendous parking spot, which in Hoboken is unheard of.  Hoboken is a combination of a college town and a place where young professionals live so there are lots of apartments, lots of people with cars, and never enough parking.

We went into New York another day and played in the sprinklers at their favorite park, Tear Drop Park.  They love the ferry ride and they love the long slide in the park.

We went to The Newark Museum and had lots of fun there.  I let the girls decide what to do as we went through.  We started at an exhibit on healthy eating and exercise for kids.  I liked the Xbox Kinect best, Margaret liked outwitting the docent as to which foods were healthiest.  She *knows* she should eat vegetables, it just has yet to translate into *eating* those veggies.  There were  some fun rooms with dress-up: one was a dressing as people from Tibet, and in the fire museum they dressed as fire fighters and valiantly fought many imaginary fires.

We had one day with back-to-back story times at the library, and one day when we went to the pool for most of the day and we all got sunburned.

As you can see, it leaves very little time for fixing the stuff that is going wrong in the house, and forget about starting something new.  I have some exterior bits that need painting but I never seem to have both a dry day and free time.  The can of paint is still on my desk. I have plans, though.  Oh yes, I have plans.

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DIY tricks

I’ve tried a few DIY tricks recently that I thought I’d report about.

I found a DIY laundry detergent recipe on Pinterest.  The cost is really low and I figured why not try it.  One tablespoon is reallio trulio enough for our large-capacity front-loading washer and the stuff comes out so clean.  It’s amazing.  There is one pain in the butt part which is that you need to grate the fels naptha soap, but I’m thinking that I can probably get my food processor to do the hard work for me next time.

There is another one making the rounds about using baking soda and peroxide to clean your cookie sheets.  I tried that one too but I didn’t follow the directions exactly.  It worked okay, certainly better than just soap + elbow grease, but not great.  In preparing this post I re-read the entry and realized that I didn’t let it sit.  Doh!  I need to do that since I sure don’t feel like scraping away at my pans.  I’ll get on it and get back to ya.

Last one, and this is a huge one, was removing rust from a very rusted cast iron griddle.  Our grill came with a cast iron grill that fits in where the ordinary grills go.  Back when it was new we used it but I seriously think we haven’t used it once in the six years since we moved into this house.  It just sat under the grill, exposed to all four seasons.  I started with a couple of recipes, all of which were some combination of acid + time + elbow grease–and I’ve already said I’m no fan of elbow grease.  Then, oh lordy, then I found another idea.  Those brilliant people at Lifehacker.com suggested using the self-cleaning function of your oven.

Now hold on, I just want to point out that this is not the sort of step to take if there is light rust on your pan.  Or rust only in spots.  This is a pretty extreme step.  But my word it did work.  The pan came out with most of the rust sitting on top as a thin layer of dust.  I did have to have at it with steel wool which was back to that danged elbow grease but I think that also tells you how much rust was on the thing.  I dried it on the stovetop and it’s now stinking up the house as I re-season the thing.

So that’s two big successes and one I’ll-get-back-to-ya.  Pretty good in my book!

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Dehumidifier failure effects

In addition to the usual and expected results of not having a dehumidifier, I noticed today that there was condensation on the ductwork in the basement.  Using my laser thermometer I found that the ducts were about 62 degrees, and that was with the AC cycled off.  I put the indoor/outdoor thermometer in the basement since it gives a reading for indoor relative humidity and the answer was 77%.

Using a Dew Point Calculator (thank you, Rochester Institute of Technology!) I found that not only is the dew point 55 degrees, but it is putting the mechanicals and stored items in the basement at risk.  A 55 degree Fahrenheit dew point means that you get condensation for temps above 55 degrees.

I guess I’ll be hunting up a dehumidifier ASAP, despite the sticker-shock I experienced a few days ago.  Seemed to me that our old one, that was given to us by my sister-in-law, that worked at a rate of 70 pints per hour, cost about $100 plus tax.  Today a similar one costs $250.  Having found a dehumidifier calculator I think we can actually get by with one of the smallest sizes they sell but in a pinch I have been told I can exchange for a larger one if needed.

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It’s in the details …

This weekend I got a bunch of little details taken care of.  The bathroom closet door has been sticking in the summer humidity and this has caused the door knob to loosen.  I used a tool I call a cheese grater, it’s a microplane rasp that pulls off more than sandpaper but less than a proper plane would.  There was just this one spot where it stuck, up at the top, so that was pretty straightforward to fix.

We have a lot of trouble with our door knobs in our older house.  Some of the knobs may be original to the house, for all I know, and the spindles have just gotten worn down.

A whole door knob mechanism is a spindle that goes through the door to connect the inside knob to the outside knob.  The spindle is square so that turning the knob will cause the tongue to go in and out and latch or unlatch the door.  The knobs screw onto the spindle and a small screw holds the knobs into place once they are in position.  If you tighten the knobs all the way you cannot even turn them, and that’s no good, but if they are too loose they will rattle in the door and also not work well.    To find the right fit I tighten the knobs until I just start to feel resistance, that I’ve reached the door.  Then I back off one full turn and tighten the screw.  Then I test the knob.  Our knobs are funny in that you can’t count on a specific back off amount being correct, I think this is because all of the hardware is old and probably has been banged up over the years.

The pantry door spindle was stripped and recently I went to the store to replace it.  I found that the spindle alone cost more than two knobs plus a spindle!  Naturally I chose the cheaper option and I am glad I did as the new knobs work so nicely.

I installed new hooks in the bathroom as well, making sure they are low enough that there is no excuse for the kids to leave their damp towels on the floor.  The girls were excited when I put them in because now they can reach but I think the full implications have yet to hit home for them.

I spent some time working on the flapper in the toilet.  It flushes just fine but sometimes the flapper doesn’t fall back into place and so the toilet runs and runs, wasting water.  More recently it’s been seated badly and I will hear the toilet tank “gulp”–it will run water into the tank for a couple of seconds and then stop.  That means the flapper is allowing water to slowly drain out of the tank and allowing the float to drop enough that it needs to allow water into the tank again.  Sometimes you can also confirm this by looking for water running down the sides of the toilet, but it depends on the angle of light in your bathroom.  Perhaps another way to see if the water is running in the toilet bowl would be to wait until the tank is filled and then drop some food coloring in the bowl.

Replacing the flapper is pretty easy, and it’s only about a $5-10 part but I have to say that the flappers are not universal.  The first flapper we had would catch on the inside of the tank and stay open until someone (me) reached in to release it.  I took an x-acto blade and pared off a small bit of the plastic so it wouldn’t catch.  Now that it doesn’t close properly I wonder if it’s just too light for the job.

I found a spare flapper in the basement and tried installing it but the new one is all rubber and far too flexible for our toilet.  I went back to the original flapper and tinkered with it to try and add weight to help it close.  I’m not convinced that it’s fixed.  We have had indoor toilets for a while now, why can’t the makers produce uniform toilet parts?

All of those tasks were in our small bathroom, I also spent some time in the master bedroom fixing the door knob so the door will actually close all the way.  I re-hung the headboard a bit higher, hung two framed pictures of the girls, and rearranged the things on the dresser so they look nicer.

There are still many small tasks to do, but having fixed the door knobs makes a big difference.  I don’t know when I’ll be able to do some of the bigger jobs like fixing the ceilings or power washing the deck since the girls are home a lot more these days.  Come the first day of school I may go repair-happy!

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Blueberry Pie

It’s 3:30 on a Tuesday afternoon, the kids are playing quietly, DH is working at his desk and I thought I’d get myself a quiet cup of coffee and a slice of blueberry pie leftover from this weekend.  Getting a slice of pie made me see that the pan was almost empty, so I sliced the remainder into portions and moved it all to a plate.  This then meant I needed to start cleaning the tart pan because it was quite covered in berry juices.  The coffee meant I needed to heat some milk, and in the middle of all of this work Margaret walked in and said (begin accusatory tone), “how come YOU get to have pie in the middle of the day?”

The words, “because I’m a grownup” have been used a lot lately so I said, “well,” which by the way when a parent says “well” it’s almost certainly a verbal cue that they’re thinking fast.  Do not, however, underestimate the ability of a parent to think really really fast.  So I says, “well”, I says, “sometimes I choose to have my dessert earlier in the day.” … and later after you have gone to bed, and even later still when I am on my way upstairs. But I didn’t say those last two out loud.

Strangely enough she accepted my answer.  Was it a case of believing me or deciding not to call bullshit on my ass?

By the way, in the car recently she was reading something out loud that included a number of acronyms.  She started to ask what WTF means but quickly said, no she wanted to know about something else.  I presume it means she knows what WTF stands for, though I’m not positive she knows it stands for “what the fuck”.  She is only finishing the first grade.  My project is to decide what to tell her WTF stands for if she should ever ask.  Knowing me I’ll tell her the truth because knowing her I can tell her not to use the F-word and she won’t.  In front of me.

DH just reminded me that WTF stands for “World Taekwon-do Federation” and that it does.

And speaking of WTF, I bought some special heat resistant spray paint for the grill–if you do this be sure and get the stuff that says it’s for grills or you might end up very sorry.  I only know this from an exercise in pure reason, I am smart enough not to mix my chlorofluorohydrocarbons and extreme heat.  I masked off the parts that are shiny baked enamel because that paint is fine, and I touched up the end pieces that were chipped and spotted.  Since I’d already cleaned the grill as part of DH’s father’s day gift it was really a quick job.

Can I say how REALLY nice it came out?  The sides are now properly deep matte black and the middle stayed its shiny black enamel.  I am very happy with the results.  They recommend using it in a well-ventilated space, and not only was I in the great outdoors but today it’s cool (72 degrees) dry (40% humidity) and gusty breezes all over the place.  I have to strongly agree that any time you are considering using a spray paint, be sure to do it in a well-ventilated space, and not in an enclosed and stuffy subway carriage, for example.  According to the directions on the can, the heat-resistant paint is dry to the touch after a mere 15 minutes, and the grill is dry enough to use at full heat after an hour.

I didn’t get before pictures, so I won’t post after photos.  You will just have to trust me about how fantastic it looks.


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