Well, I have to say that social distancing – or even more pronounced social distancing than is normal for me – is letting me get stuff done around the house. The Daughter Unit has work obligations, and a social life of sorts, which the Great Wuhan Coronavirus Panic of 2020 has not yet impacted to any degree. We stocked up at the beginning of the month, topped up over the weekend, so there is nothing I particularly need for projects at the moment. The gym has closed for two weeks – and here was a place which routinely sanitized for your protection anyway. We walked the dogs energetically this morning, in place of an hour on the elliptical, and then the Daughter Unit went off to her place of work, assisting her employer with sorting out their personal and professional expenses for the year. It turns out today that the IRS will generously grant us another ninety days to file, due to the Great Wuhan Coronavirus Panic. Well, it’s a very ill wind indeed that blows no one any good.

I may eventually have to go to Lowe’s for wallpaper paste, and some more paint rollers. The new back door awaits installation now, being painted on all sides, so I moved on to the trim around the hallway doors, and the underside of the attic space access ladder. When the new and toweringly efficient HVAC system was installed some years ago, replacing the decrepit and leaking original contractor-grade system, they put in a brand new ladder and a heavy wooden panel covering it into the hallway ceiling – and I never got around to painting it. So that is done, and tomorrow I will haul in the tall ladder and do the trim around it. I watered the garden, and planted some lettuce, and an assortment of basil seeds. We already have garden tomatoes, by the way – from some starts in 2-inch pots that I bought last fall and protected through the winter, and a wayward plant left over from last year – and the first couple of cuttings of spring salad greens, from seeds I planted early last month. It’s been that warm, you see.

Laundry – done sheets, and blankets. What an onerous chore was lifted off the shoulders of women, with the invention of electric washing machines and dryers? What might have been the weekly-occurring project taking up several days of brutal labor over a boiler, wringer, and clothesline now takes a turn in the washing machine and two hours in the dryer. Listen, you could never sucker me into going into one of those ‘history-house’ projects. I know very well what doing household laundry in the 19th century involved – at the very best, sending it all out to an industrial laundry in the big city and hoping that you got all your stuff back again in one piece, or at least, the pieces you sent it out in. Plus having to sew on all the buttons again, unless you had a maid to do all that needlework. The late 20th century to start of the 21st is the best century ever, thanks to household electricity and plumbing (not to mention air conditioning!) and don’t ever you let some freak afflicted with nostalgie de la boue a la The Life Primitive tell you any different. (An all-over bath once a week. Indeed – spare me. The ancient Romans had the right idea, as far as frequent bathing went.)

And – I processed the bag of small sweet apples through one of those patent apple-peeling/slicing gadgets, dropping them into a bath of water acidulated with a little lemon juice, and put them into the patent dehydrator that I am supposed to do a review of, when all those little apple slices are dried. And only then, did I turn to writing…

I had a client make the final payment on a finished project late this week, and the two potential clients whom we met with earlier in the week are deferring a decision or a start on their projects until later (if ever) so I could take a break from their stuff and do a little bit more on the ongoing house project; a replacement door for the back door into the garage, and one for the second bedroom, which the Daughter Unit currently occupies. We found a quite acceptable metal-reinforced panel door at Home Depot for a reasonable price, but the door for the bedroom is another matter. We were looking for a door with a glass panel in it, for the bedroom is at the end of a hallway with only a single ceiling light, and no natural light from the outside whatever. So – the Daughter Unit has been pushing for the door with a translucent glass panel in it, so as to allow natural light from the bedroom window to seep into the hallway. Only problem was … expense and availability. Such a door is a special order; not in stock at either of the big-box home improvement outlets. Although Wayfair had very nice ones available – the very cheapest of them was $300, which is … a little out of budget. I had to go and order from Home Depot, and the door will be delivered early in May. Until it arrives, my attention will be focused laser-like on the rest of work in the hallway; specifically, covering the ghastly popcorn texture with beadboard panels and cornice molding, and the peel’n-stick lino with cork flooring and new baseboards. (This will be a test run for the look of the rest of the house …) Until I can begin on that, though – I need to replace the narrow set of shelves along the hallway which houses a simply huuuge collection of paperback books. This will involve boxing up all the books, and taking down the metal brackets and MDF planks in order to complete painting that wall, and seeing to a complete-floor-to-ceiling shelf unit just wide enough to accommodate paperback books… no, really, I would rather work on my income taxes …

All the bits and bobs and lists of expenses and profits from sales in various venues, are all tallied up and ready to be delivered to the nice gentleman CPA who has done my income taxes since 1995. What I will do when he retires for real, I have no idea. I can just hope that he is one of those who will carry on out of habit, looking after a diminishing pool of clients, rather like my late business partner did with her clients – and she handed them all onto me, those who survived. I can only hope that my CPA has a younger apprentice handy.

In other news, it seems that springtime has arrived – alas, not in the trees to the back of the property, which is mystifying. The plum and peach are still bare sticks; no blossoms or budding leaves at all. Neither is there any fresh spring growth on the thrice-cursed hackberry weed tree, just the other side of the fence line – a tree which I hate with the passion of a thousand burning suns for the manner in which it scatters nasty, weedy sprouts all across my yard. I hate the hackberry, so I do. If the wretched seedlings aren’t pulled up entire by the time they are about three or four inches tall, they send a tap-root halfway to the center of the earth and defy extermination … only cutting damned thing off at ground level and painting the bleeding stump with a chemical concoction available from the local nursery keeps it from propagating… This weekend, plant out the various seeds and seedlings, as mid-March marks the last possible frost in South Texas. I did get a jump on this, in sheltering some tomato starts through the winter; they are just now bearing a handful of tomatoes ripe enough to eat, and a tub full of spring greens is nicely ready for salads … and that was my week.

07. January 2020 · Comments Off on Domestic Organization · Categories: Domestic

We finished taking down the Christmas tree and the holiday ornaments over the weekend, and having gotten into an organizing mood, we decided that it was time to tackle two more household locations in series need to a good reorganizing; the spice cupboard, and the pantry. The pantry is a tall cupboard about the size of an old-fashioned phone booth. A couple of years ago we ripped out the original wooden shelves – which were deep and impractical – and put in narrow wire shelving all along the back, up to the very ceiling, and even narrower wire shelving along the sides, and on the back of the door. This let us be a good bit more organized with the staples, canned and packaged goods, but … well, it had gotten to the point where we couldn’t find anything, or we had three or four containers of stuff because we bought more when we couldn’t find it. I mean, really – four packages of fajita seasoning, and three of celery salt? And to our hideous shame and embarrassment, some of the packaged mixes, for bread, cakes and frosting were more than four years past their ‘best by’ dates. Bread mixes definitely lose their mojo very shortly after their expiration date; this we know for certain, through experience. And there were some home-canned items that … we just couldn’t. They were on a high shelf at the back, and I didn’t even want to salvage the jars, the contents looked so nasty.

Set to work on the spice cupboard, first; helped by a set of 12 4-ounce lidded spice jars gotten through Amazon Vine for review. The set came with a small collapsing funnel, as an extra. Sorted, amalgamated, repacked, and a half dozen jars of spices actually thrown away – I mean, I could not remember how long ago I bought that little jar of dried fennel; not that I needed it any more as I have a large fresh fennel plant going great guns in the garden. And the powdered horseradish root absolutely has to be something that I packed in the last move. In 1994. (A couple of years ago I found a jar of Spanish saffron on the shelves. From Alcampo, the Spanish equivalent of Walmart. We rotated out of Spain at the end of 1991…)

And then to the pantry, which went rather faster than I had expected – but oh, my – there was a lot of stuff in there. A nice portion of the more-than-time-expired baking mixes went straight to the trash; the Daughter Unit and I felt rather bad about that. All those news stories about how Americans (or whatever) throw away so many pounds of food – eleventy!!! Well, we threw away our yearly share in one fell swoop, but honestly – most of the packages and jars had best-by dates of at least four years ago and were purchased from the ‘severely marked-down’ shelves at HEB … and if we hadn’t gotten around to using them in the last four years, then the odds were that we would never do; why prolong the agony? There went three or four bottles of cooking sauces, and a Fisher & Wieser blueberry sauce that we had never found anything to do with, and otherwise we love Fisher & Wieser; all the other F&W products were reprieved, and the Daughter Unit sorted them into ‘marinades/sauces’ and ‘salad dressing’ categories on the shelf. At the end of this exercise, we had a bit more shelf-space (enough for the eight-pack of canned diced tomatoes from Costco) and the Daughter’s stash of exotic teas and her favored brand of coffee. With luck, we might actually be able to find stuff in the pantry … and the Daughter Unit has sternly warned me to consider what we might have in the pantry when planning the menus over the next couple of months.  

27. December 2019 · Comments Off on Looking Back, Looking Ahead · Categories: Domestic, Uncategorized

Every couple of years, I am driven by circumstance, reflection, ambition … something! To look back at the year so nearly done with and look ahead at what I’d like to get done in the new one. Pretty much everything that I hoped to get done in 2019 has been accomplished, or nearly accomplished, as I wrote a year ago, “…for 2019: new bathroom, cleared-out garage, and a size 10/12 in jeans again. Piece of cake, eh?”

Two out of three isn’t bad and the size in jeans is currently about a 14/16; say two and a half goals accomplished. The renovation of the master bath was completed by late spring and now almost completely paid for, the garage is mostly cleared out and organized – especially as I put some of the contents on Nextdoor for sale, which funded some Christmas gift-purchasing frivolity. In addition to this, I got the two Luna City collections done and launched, both print and eBook versions. But I did not get the new garage door installed – that must wait on the new year. That will be the first of the goals for 2020; getting a functioning garage door. The existing door was, I believe, either installed by the people whom I bought the house from in 1995, or even one installed by the original builder of the house late in the 1980s. In any case, it’s falling apart. Constructed of wood and composition panels, it is so much decayed that much of it might actually be broken apart by hand. Installation of a new door is not something which Neighborhood Handy Guy wants to venture upon – rather dangerous with the necessary springs and cables, as I understand it, so I must call on the services of a small company who did the same for a near neighbor. In a fit of efficiency, I asked for, and received their business card, and it has been magneted to the refrigerator door ever since. Being able to put one of the cars inside the garage, and to do workshop stuff inside the remaining portion is the main household goal.

The second goal is to finish the Civil War novel, That Fateful Lightning, and two Luna City episodes during 2020. Being that I have committed to Third Thursday in July at the Court Street Coffee as the launch for That Fateful Lightning, and for Luna City #9 means … well, I have found that nothing is quite so inspiring to literary output as a deadline. Which gives me the rest of the year for Luna City #10, and yes, there is plenty of material to work on in that regard.

There are some secondary household goals for 2019. In no particular order of importance – which means they will be sorted as soon as the bargains for required supplies and elements present themselves, those goals are:

  1. Start on replacing windows and the patio slider door. All of these existing are original to the house, and as the writers of Victorian novels would say – are in a much-decayed condition. The window replacements will mean replacing and painting the window trim boards, and patching/replacing the siding. The most-weather-exposed sides of the house – the western-facing – are the worst-affected. Fortunately, this is a small house, and those aspects are relatively small and well-within the abilities of Neighborhood Handy Guy, who also has a small sideline in exterior painting. And I have the veteran discount at the Big Box Home Improvement stores. (Both of them.) Eventually, probably when just about all the windows are replaced – a total painting of the exterior will be involved but depending on how much it costs for the windows, probably not until 2021. The Daughter Unit and I did the last exterior paintjob; the long-term plan is that I will pay Neighborhood Handy Guy to do it. Of this s**t I am too old and tired to do any more. I’ll count this job as well-begun with the worst two windows and the patio slider door done and dusted.
  2. Replace the Chicken Abode – likely with something moderately-priced or on sale from Tractor Supply – and add a couple of more laying hens. The senior surviving hen has stopped laying, and the coop which we bought at Sam’s Club is falling apart. In the spring we will get three young pullets from the source where we purchased the original Three Chicken Stooges and thank you for a guarantee that none of them will be a young rooster. We already have one of those, and while he is being quite mellow and not noisy in the early morning any more, I wish not to endure the crack-of-dawn serenade.
  3. Sort out more of the garden: a better garden of raised beds and containers for vegetables and herbs in the sheltered space behind the front gate, and to install a paved patio area opposite the front door. I’ve managed to nurse some discount tomato plants thus far through the last couple of chills, and some of them have blossoms on them. Hope springs eternal in the gardener’s mind; a triumph of hope over experience, at least as far as tomatoes are concerned. We already have the benches and a ceramic patio table, thanks to the generosity of Amazon Vine; all that waits on this project is a bunch of pavers, and a solar-powered water feature. Something with water playing over pebbles in a ceramic pot, cascading down to a hidden reservoir is my own particular dream.

Well, those are my goals for 2020; I believe that at least three-fourths of them are doable. Progress will be posted here, and on the FB page  

The first of two projects for 2019 – part of the grand Five-Year Plan for improving Stately Hayes Manor is nearly accomplished. That is, the renovation – in one portion down to the very wall studs – of the master bathroom. (The second will be clearing out the garage and installing a new garage door.) This was an utterly bland, undistinguished pair of small rooms, completed in contractor-grade fittings, tile and features sometime in 1985. I most particularly hated the tub and the tile enclosure surrounding it, for the tile seemed to be incapable of ever being scrubbed clean, as the grout between the tiles shot through with mold. The tub finish was also disintegrating. I had refinished it once myself, to cover up a patch where the porcelain had worn through to metal, but even the refinished portions had become incapable of being cleaned. The dressing area was filled across one wall with a vanity and single sink set into a fake stone countertop – also nearly incapable of being cleaned, without being sand-blasted, and a wall-to-wall mirror. Both of these features made the dressing are seem small and cramped.
So, after refinishing the small bathroom last spring, the master bath was on my list; and I began collecting pictures on Pinterest and from other sources, of bathroom spaces which appealed to me and were readily doable: newer and smaller vanity, a walk-in shower with a glass door instead of a tub, and definitely a newer toilet with a more efficient and powerful flush … and as for the rest, a kind of refined country, early 20th century look emerged from the collection of pins and pics. A pattern of tile which went on sale for less than $3.00 a square foot on Wayfair set the colors … and in mid-January I started clearing out what I could. Over January, Neighborhood Handy Guy and his hard-working #1 Minion finished demolishing that which I could not manage myself … and the new elements began going in: anaglypta wallpaper from Wayfair on ceiling, woodwork, bead—board paneling, and floor tile from Lowe’s, a pair of light fixtures from Amazon … all the necessary bits and bobs. The woodwork got painted white, the upper walls blue, to match – and as of this week, it is all but done. I did the painting and wallpaper, NHG and #1 Minion did the rest. Behold the before, during and after!