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I have to say that the first three projects – part of my Five Year Home Improvement Plan, and supposed to have been spread out over the first six months or so of 2018 – have all come to completion in the space of three weeks and some days. This is a matter of some surprise to me. I was impatient of ever getting started on the Catio of Splendor, for which I bought the materials late in January. Neighborhood Handy Guy kept being delayed by other projects, and so in exasperation with this, I thought I would explore the cost of the next substantial item: a new roof, being that the old one was likely on it’s last gasp. I wanted an estimation for replacing the asphalt shingles with a standing seam metal roof, so that I could begin setting aside money for it. I went to the company which replaced the last roof, on the grounds that they had done a great job then, and that the owner of the company had lived just four doors away from me at the time of the Great Hailstorm of March, 2005. A good few of us opted for that company, seeing that we knew where the owner lived.  Practically everyone in the neighborhood got a new roof out of that storm, which featured violent hail the size of large and small marbles. I was informed at the time that the new roof would probably only be good for ten years; this was why I included a new roof in my Five-Year Plan.

The estimator brought out his ladder, camera and measuring tape, and after a short voyage onto the roof, informed me that not only was the 2005-installed roof much decayed, my house seems to have taken some damage from the tornado which struck a year ago. I didn’t note anything at that time, but some dead sticks brought down from the tree – all the substantial damage was done by that storm to houses a good third of a mile up the hill. But it appeared that something had whanged into my roof at top-speed, punched a gouge through the asphalt tiles and into the plywood underneath, and bounced over the roof-ridge, slightly denting the chimney top in the process. I should note that I slept entirely through this event, only waking up and hearing the thunder in the wee hours, and then going back to sleep again. It’s a gift, sleeping through stuff like this. Not the first time I have slept through interesting/momentous events.

The short version turns out to be that a standing-seam metal roof on my place would cost a bit north of $20,000, whereas a better grade of composition shakes would only be about $7,000, of which the insurance company would pick up all but the deductible. As the estimator prepared to depart, he asked, casually – if there was anything more he could do. I asked him to price out and estimate the cost of the covered back porch-catio, considering that I had already purchased the necessary materials, and I was tired of waiting to get on Neighborhood Handy Guy’s crammed work schedule. So – the Reliable Neighborhood Company’s bid for a replacement roof plus addition of Splendid Catio was … reasonable. This week I was on the schedule for the roof, which was knocked off in a day, starting first thing. Which actually meant ‘first thing’. They worked full-out, four or five Hispanic guys (of whom only one spoke colloquial English) and bashed it out by early evening – even to installing the rooster weathervane on the roof-peak over the garage. And better yet – on Thursday for Reliable Neighborhood Company’s carpenters to come and begin on the  Catio of Splendor. Which they did, on the dot of half-past eight, and had the corner support post installed before I even came back from walking the dogs. But Thursday was the first day of Summer Brutal Heat in Texas, so they knocked off in mid-afternoon, returning on Friday (also first thing) to finish installing the tin roof panels, and tying the whole thing into the existing new roof. Which I can totally understand and empathize with, as I agreed to paint the resulting structure over the weekend, so that the master carpenter can return – first thing on Monday, of course – to attach the heavy mesh hardware cloth which will enclose the Catio of Splendor, wall to wall, and hang the screen door. Everyone agreed – this would be better, painting the wooden frame-work, before attaching the hardware cloth. So – that was my project today, at which I could only last until about 3:00 or so. Drenched with sweat, splotched with paint, exhausted and dehydrated. I got it about three-quarters done. The rest tomorrow.

I understand there was some kind of big social bash on, early Saturday morning: an unemployed American actress (on a show I never watched) married an English veteran of the war in Afghanistan, from a family dependent on government payouts. Did I miss anything else, while painting the Catio of Splendor?

Meet Matilda – who is modeling a red-checked dress with a lace-trimmed pinafore – the first of the 18-inch doll outfits for the fall market season

I am not entirely taken up with home and garden renovations, these days – oh, dear, no. Between reading tomes about our very dear American Revolution, I am trying to clear out my stock of sewing scraps. The Daughter Unit has been asking me (with heavier and heavier emphasis) to do sewing projects for those events where we have a booth at an arts-n-crafts do. Yea these many decades ago, I had a small craft sideline in doing Cabbage Patch doll clothes for base craft fairs. Sold them from the trunk of my car, they were that popular, in the months after a Christmas market event. But that was … err … quite a good few years ago. I still have a small stock of them, as a matter of fact, and have attempted without any particular success, to sell that remainder at various recent markets. I fear that Cabbage Patch dolls, after having been the doll-fave in the last century, are now a back-number, of interest only to obscure collectors.

But the Daughter Unit, having noticed a vendor booth at a couple of market events last year, stocked full of American Girl doll-clothes, and observing that the American Girl line (plus any number of other 18-inch doll knockoffs) are now extremely popular, ventured in her artless manner – ‘Hey, Mom – you should start doing doll-clothes again! Bet there’s a market!’ Likely there is –  much more than there would be these days for Cabbage Patch dolls.

Having done enough for the time being in the way of vintage-style costumes, middle-aged-authors for the use of, I have turned to reviewing my bag o’ scraps and cutting American Girl-sized outfits from the most suitable of them. The Amazon Vine program inadvertently aided this by offering me, gratis-but-for-the-chore-of-writing-a-review, an 18-inch doll, an American Girl knock-off, the advertising for which included the intelligence that American Girl clothing and shoes will fit this doll. I sent for the doll to use as mannequin and downloaded a bunch of the original American Girl classic pattern assortments …there are collectors and enthusiasts who have scanned the half-dozen original pattern sets and made them available on-line. (Their main benefit is that, as nearly as I can tell, they don’t use much yardage – so excellent for piecing out from scraps. Scraps of which I have, in plenty. Odd bits of lace, trim and ribbons as well. And they call for Velcro for closures, which is kind of tacky, but way less complicated production-wise than using snaps, or buttons.) My early concern was that – would they actually fit the doll? After cutting about twenty or thirty outfits from the patterns, I thought that, yeah – better make absolutely certain of that.

And they do. I seamed one of the outfits together and fitted it onto the sample doll … whose’ name will be Matilda, by the way (although her trade name from the original manufacturer is Serena) – and they fit, quite nicely. There are a heap of art markets coming up this fall – and some which involve this kind of craft as well. I really want to reduce the scrap-bag, I am not averse to spending hours over a sewing machine … and besides, Matilda and her 18-inch child doll friends need pretty outfits. Pretty, modest, and traditional outfits, I should also add. The little sideline in doll clothes will be titled and advertised as “Matilda’s Portmanteau” during the coming market season, whenever we do a strictly arts and crafts market.

Well, a project progress report, seeing that one of the semi-big projects on my list of home-improvement items has been accomplished – and bountifully, at that. Well, it did run to about $300 more in labor and $200 more in stuff – specifically a wall-mounted mirror, a faucet set, and a glass shelf – than I had initially anticipated. But the small bathroom renovation is complete and gorgeous! Well, once the glass shelf arrives, courtesy of Amazon and UPS, it will be complete. I began working on the bathroom after I got back from Houston, at the middle of April – scraping disgusting wads of soluble plaster and popcorn texture off the ceiling, and alternately, those last bits of paint from off the concrete floor, while awaiting the convenience of Neighborhood Handy Guy. Neighborhood Handy Guy boogies to the beat of a different drummer, when it comes to a schedule, I’m afraid. When he says, “I’ll be over first thing!” it could mean anywhere between 8:30 and noon. When he says, “I’ll be over today!” it could be any time from mid-morning to late afternoon. This charming eccentricity is forgiven by neighborhood clients because he does amazingly good work (carpentry, tile-work, fixture-installation, painting, etc.) being a perfectionist at heart, and that his charges for labor are … well, let’s just say they are reasonable. Especially if you do some of the work, assist him, and purchase the necessary. So reasonable that he is in constant demand – another reason for being patient. So – two weeks of work from Neighborhood Handy Guy, including trips to the local Lowe’s outlet, first to pick up the pedestal sink and the new toilet, the paint, tile for floor and sink surround, good sturdy planks for a shelving unit, baseboards and trim, subsequently to collect other items as required … and now the bathroom is finished. Yay! (Pictures below. The room is so small that it’s impossible to back up far enough to take pictures encompassing the whole … and the paint color is more of a white with a pink tinge than the sort of Pepto Bismol shade that it looks under flash.)

It’s amazing how much roomier it seems, now with a nice pedestal sink, and with a custom, if simple and unadorned shelving unit installed. The original vanity was contractor-grade, and so shoddy that I bashed it apart myself with an ordinary hammer and consigned it to the gargantuan wheelie-trash-bin without any untoward exertion. And my place was built by a reputable company: homes built by the really fly-by-night builders must be equipped with cabinets built with heavy cardboard, and fixtures constructed from soda straws and heavy tinfoil.

It’s only the very first item on my Five-Year To-Do, though. I am awaiting the call from the roofing and remodeling company, in service to the second item – initial construction of the Catio and in association with that project, a new roof. Sometime in late May, early June, I think. Then the garage door – and that is dependent on sorting out all the crap in the garage, much of which is the Daughter Unit’s. She came home from her last station at Cherry Point and when her hold baggage arrived, it was all unloaded into the garage. The master bath reno must wait until after Christmas. Sigh. Another week of scraping popcorn gunk off the ceiling awaits me at that point. And likely at least three weeks of waiting every day for Neighborhood Handy Guy to appear and work his home-renovation magic. Until then, I solace myself by going down the hall, opening the door, and basking in the retro-charm of the finished small bathroom.

So – given the principle that a picture is worth a thousand words, here is a lengthy post of pictures, taken today in my tiny suburban garden/farm:

19. April 2018 · Comments Off on 5-Year Plan: The First Project · Categories: Domestic

While waiting to be put into the roofing/construction company’s schedule for the ‘catio’ and the new roof – which likely won’t happen until mid or late May at earliest, I have gone ahead and started work on the small bathroom renovation. The Daughter Unit was expecting this to be done while she was in California. I was also expecting to have Roman the Handy Guy start on the ‘catio’ before she even left, but he was in two minds about the project; an entirely roofed and screened-in porch was a bit more of a project that he wanted to tackle single-handed. So – I handed off the catio-porch element onto the professionals and asked him to tackle the small bathroom renovation. This is something more in his wheelhouse anyway.

The small bathroom project is a relatively simple one; rip out the vanity/sink and the toilet, scrape that nasty popcorn texture off the ceiling, tile the floor and the wall behind where the new sink will go, repaint the whole room, and install a set of built-in shelves and a new wall light fixture. The whole room is about 5 by 9, a third of that taken up by the bathtub across one end anyway. No big structural changes, no changes to the water or sewer lines, nothing to the electrical beyond replacing switch plates to match the new color scheme. Which will be white and a sort of grey-lavender-pinkish, to match a little vintage porcelain dresser set that the Daughter Unit picked up somewhere or other and wanted to use as the keynote design element. We plan to reuse the faucet set – since it was the one that I bought to replace the original construction-grade faucet about a decade ago, when I did my first redecorating pass through my little patch of suburban paradise.

So, yesterday we were at the local big-box home renovation store, picking up the replacement toilet and pedestal sink that I had ordered last week – both items packed in big boxes, which is why I had arranged with Roman and his pickup truck, rather than try and stuff them in the back of the Montero myself. While there, I bought the other material for the project; paint, floor and backsplash tile, the grout mix, lengths of baseboard stock, and lumber for a set of floor-to-ceiling shelves which will replace the storage space lost when the bathroom vanity is taken out. The bathroom is so small, the vanity takes up entirely too much of what little space there is – hence, replaced with a pedestal sink. Roman has a busy schedule for the rest of this week, so his part of the renew-work falls into next week. My part falls into the interim: scrape up the last of the paint on the concrete floor and clean thoroughly, so that the tiles adhere properly, take down all the stuff attached to the walls, patch the holes, sand, and otherwise prep the room for heavy redecoration. And that was my week – other than the trip to Houston, which I will write up anon.

In two more years, the mortgage on my tiny patch of suburban paradise will be paid off. This is a consummation that I have longed for, especially when I tossed aside all expectation of working full-time for other people, about ten years ago, and resolved to make a living from writing, and from doing freelance publishing with the Tiny Publishing Bidness. I had an almost wholly unexpected bout of good sense when I purchased the house in 1995; which resulted in a) not buying into too much house, and b) ensuring that the mortgage did not consume more than a quarter of my total monthly income, as it then stood. Since then, the mortgage has been paid monthly, on the dot, even in months in which I just scraped past, economically, by the skin of my teeth. Something always showed up in time to rescue us from disaster; the sale of the California property allowed me to install a direly-needed new HVAC system, for instance.
The situation now is that I have sufficient income to make serious and concrete plans for fixing various things about the house. Alas, I have concluded that unless and until I get offered a bomb of money for film rights to Luna City, or the Adelsverein Trilogy, the vacation home/residence in the Hill Country is off the table. The rational course is to work with the house I have in the real world, and not the one in dreams, and so the plans have been mapped out in best Soviet Five-Year Plan style. The end of the month will bring about the first of them; the patio project – or more precisely, the ‘catio’ – a residence for the cats who we have inherited or have claimed us as their permanent servant class. We have designed a covered, screened shelter for the cats; full of climbing stands, ramps, platforms, hammocks – what Roman the Neighborhood Handy Guy terms “a Disneyland for cats!” This is Phase One. Honestly, I will be glad to get their litterboxes out of the house itself and have them – or most of them – living in a place that we can clean with a spritz from the garden hose. One of the cats we inherited from Mom has a dicey digestion, the other is willfully and deliberately incontinent … and I am just that tired of dealing with the mess, the smell, and the puddles of liquid or not-so-liquid matter.
Phase Two; a renovation of the guest bathroom, which is the one mainly used by the Daughter Unit. Easy peasy, relatively. The bathtub/shower is in relatively good shape, but the toilet and sink vanity absolutely have to go. It’s a very small bathroom, those two items are the original contractor-installed, and besides taking up too much space, they are ugly, and well past their best-if-used-by date. (We’ve seen other home-owners in the neighborhood put them out for bulk trash collection in the last ten or so years.) We plan to replace the sink vanity with a pedestal sink, a better grade of toilet, and paying Roman the Neighborhood Handy Guy to tile the floor with tiles which we got from a neighbor – leftovers from her own home renovation. Hey – the price was right, and there should be just enough of them to retile a tiny cubicle of a bathroom. Our plan also calls for tiling the wall behind where the vanity was with some nice bits of ornamental tile, which we will have to purchase, before Roman can install the new sink and toilet. Aside from that – Phase Two is relatively easy on the budget, although the Daughter Unit wants Roman to build a shelf-and-basket-drawer unit to go up the wall and replace the storage space lost with the vanity. More »

As a matter of fact, the pantry closet is for one, not lamentable. It’s about the size of an old-fashioned telephone booth, and my daughter kindly saw to sorting out several weeks ago while I was nurturing what I hope was a light case of the current flu. Yes, we have a decades-worth supply of bottled BBQ sauces and condiments, and an equally substantial collection of pastas and dried beans, all now neatly arranged on the shelves, not that pictures of the results would get  hundreds or thousands of likes on Instagram from what seems to be a sub-culture of women obsessed with neat pantries full of things in matching designer containers.

Look, I go for function – if I can find what I’m looking for in my pantry without thirty feet of rope, and one of those safety helmets with a miner’s light attached – it’s good. And such is now the case, although I do wonder what on earth I was were thinking of, when we ended up with two bottles of Fisher and Weiser Roasted Blueberry Chipotle sauce. I guess we thought it would be as good as the raspberry version … but seriously, dark blue sauce?

It was the freezer which I kept delaying doing a good clean-out, until this week.  It was packed, every shelf with … stuff. Those disapproving articles published or posted here and there, chiding Americans for wasting however many pounds it is of edible food that we are currently wasting? I just threw out my share this week. This is really the only aspect of housekeeping where I have always fallen short; raw kitchen scraps like potato and carrot peelings go to the chickens, used tea leaves, eggshells, and scraps like onion peelings unsuitable for the chickens go into the compost bin … but the freezer is where leftovers of cooked foods in Rubbermaid containers go until they are ready to be thrown out – freezer-burned, covered with frost, dried out or just plain unidentifiable. Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. Good thing it has been bitterly cold this week, so the unidentified frozen blocks of … whatever … did hot have a chance to ripen into a substance which would gag a maggot at fifteen paces while waiting for the CPS trash collection truck had a chance to come and carry them away.

So – herewith my belated resolution for the new year; to make a dedicated effort to freeze leftovers, and on the following day to vacuum-seal, label, and date them. The vacuum-sealer is a great invention, BTW – essentially, what this does is to transform leftovers or extra portions of things into a home-made ‘boil in a bag’ entrée; fantastic for things like soups and sauces. Other things, like enchiladas and mac-n-cheese, I can put into a plastic bag, freeze to shape in the casserole dish that they will eventually be cooked in, and vacuum-sealed after they are hard-frozen. Next week – if still cold; the garage deep-freeze, of which nothing much will need to be thrown out, as most of it is vacuum-sealed already.  And that was my week, cleaning out the house freezer because it was too freaking cold outside. What about yours?

30. December 2017 · Comments Off on End of the Year Considerations · Categories: Domestic

All well, then for the closing out of the year? For a couple of years running, I had a list of ‘stuff’ to do, and would tally up at the end of the year what I had managed to accomplish on the list – what I had done, and what I had left undone. Most of those stated goals have been done and dusted several turns of the Earth ago. The main one left unaccomplished is my ambition to become the Margaret Mitchell of the Texas Hill Country, and earn sufficient from the book-writing to buy my very own little patch of valley – say around Sisterdale – and build a modest country dreamhouse bungalow on it. That is more of a dream than a readily-achievable goal, so my breath on this is not held with any great conviction. I should work more social media in marketing my various books, as I was able to do in November and December, but I had two books out in those months, and I would really like to take a bit of time and care with further historical installments … any way, as far as the achievable goals are concerned –
The main one is to renovate the back porch. We tore down the existing rather flimsy structure, with the aim of putting on a more solid roof, and screening in the sides with hardware cloth to make a ‘catio’ – where my daughters’ cats can live. And sleep, and eat, romp to their hearts content, and piss on stuff that doesn’t matter. We have a lovely design worked out, and Roman, the local handy-guy is keen to make it a veritable Disneyland for cats, with ramps, shelves, rope-wound columns for them to climb on, hammocks and hidey-holes … all of which can be cleaned off by a spritz with the garden hose. Roman has more business doing handy-guy stuff than he can shake a stick at, these days. He lives in the neighborhood himself, does splendid work and gets even more work by word of mouth reference.

The second goal is to do the patch of front garden to the left of the driveway – Miss Irene, our next-door-neighbor, an elderly and long-time resident of the neighborhood, now has a near relation (along with one of her grandsons) now staying at her house. Myron, the near relation, is keen to set up a small neighborhood yard-maintenance business. He wants to use the embarrassingly-neglected patch of my front yard as a sample garden and advertising for his business. It’s a piece about 15 x thirty, and it used to look nice, until the butterfly bushes all died, and a species of scraggly purple ruelia took over. It’s also right at a corner where practically everyone coming through the neighborhood stops and turns right to go farther into the neighborhood. We have a handshake agreement with Myron; I’ll buy or scrounge materials, he’ll do the same, I’ll buy or supply plants and come up with a design, and he’ll do the work.

I’m also doing his business cards and flyers, and when the garden patch is done, there’ll be a discrete little sign, referring admirers to his business. He and Miss Irene’s grandson are all gung-ho for this project. This will reap benefits for us both; Myron will have his perfect little patch of garden-services advertising, I will have a perfect little patch of suburban garden, and hopefully, Myron will be doing a ton of business on the basis of it. We have already introduced Myron to Roman, and they got on like a house on fire, being of much the same hard-working and perfectionist character. This is a neighborhood – our little patch of suburban paradise, which gets along perfectly well on the lubrication of personal acquaintance and references.

The third project will be to sort out the garage, and replace the garage door. At least a quarter of the sorting out was done when I had to replace the hot water heater, and throw out all the stuff that had been ruined by soaking in water leaking from the unit. But there is still stuff that needs to be sorted, and if required, pitched. Much of it is my daughters’- but the expense of replacing the door itself will be mine. I hope that at least two of these projects can be completed by next year – but not holding my breath on the third.

The feverish, body-aching, racking cough sort of cold, which I most assuredly did not catch through running briefly barefoot through the sudden miraculous snow-fall a week ago, nor from sitting out in the cold on a Sunday evening at the Pour Haus in New Braunfels for nearly eight hours. No, it is just the result of having been out and about among a lot of people during the cold-n-flu season. (I was originally going to give a miss to the Pour Haus event, but my daughter sprained-damaged her foot in taking a picture of the snow, when she climbed on top of one of the tree rounds in the back yard, in order to take a picture of the field behind, all covered in virgin white … and well, mothers do this kind of thing.)

So, in between nursing my low-grade temperature and wheezing bronchials, providing a human hot-water-bottle for slumbering cats and dogs, I have been working on a Watercress Press project, and sorting out the last of the Christmas shopping – ordering those gifts which will be drop-shipped and mailing those which we purchased locally … all without ever having set foot in a mall, or in a retailer any more complicated than the brand-new HEB on Bulverde Road. Yes, internet shopping is great, no, a cram-jammed mall or big-box retailer full of vaguely-haunted looking shoppers and endless Muzak versions of twenty-year old pop Christmas hits is not my notion of fun, even when I do not habe a code.

The last big Christmas project is to purchase the last few ingredients and begin constructing the seven or eight varieties of fudge that we make for the neighbors; fortunately, I am starting to feel well enough to be up to this. Besides the neighbors, containers of home-made gourmet fudge made with the finest ingredients – chocolate, butter, cream, and all – goes to Alfred the mailman, the guys who drive the CPS disposal truck, the express service delivery drivers, staff at the bank branch where we do business, the fire house across the way, the police substation on the north-east side, a couple of favored employers and clients … oh yes, we will have the good stuff on the way to you all by next weekend.

13. December 2017 · Comments Off on Winter Meditations · Categories: Domestic

 

Bare Footprints in the Snow

The last of our winter market events are done; our season was rather truncated, as the earlier markets proved not as profitable as hoped, and one – for which we had great hopes – filled up with other vendors before we could send payment. And what profits we did gain were dented by a computer melt-down on my part, and the necessity of purchasing a new tire for the Montero on Blondie’s. Even though the economy is supposed to be improving, you couldn’t prove it by the small merchants doing the mobile weekly markets this last quarter. And I am coming down with a horrific cold, and Blondie managed to injure her foot last Friday morning, trying to take a picture of the snow-covered field behind our house … yes, it snowed, seriously in San Antonio last week, much to everyone’s surprise. We were expecting a cold spell overnight, and Thursday afternoon delivered cold-blustery-rainy-water-sodden kind of weather, of a degree that made us grateful to retreat to a warm house, eat supper from a tray in front of the television – and then suddenly there was a horrific ‘whoomp’ sound from outside, and all the lights and the TV went off.

Yeah, power outage. Blondie assumed at once that someone had skidded through the T-intersection at the front of our house and piled into either the light standard, or the tree in the front yard. But no – “It’s snowing!”

Real snow – fat, fluffy flakes of white snow, falling as thick as they ever did on the night of a full moon in Utah, where we lived in the early 1990s. That’s one of those snow-falls where the clouds, the snow falling, and the snow fallen combine to reflect the light and make everything – if not as bright as noon, then at least as bright as twilight. I’m told that in Russia this phenomenon is called a “White Night.” The trees were laden with fluffy white snowflakes, the ground below thickly covered … it was beautiful, it really was. It doesn’t snow in San Antonio oftener than every thirty years or so, and this was real snow! We even took of our shoes and socks, and did what we did in Utah for the first heavy snow-fall of the year, which was to run barefoot through it, barefoot in our front and backyard through the fresh-fallen fluffy snow.

Didn’t last beyond midday the next day, of course – it didn’t even stay cold enough to harm any of the plants, even the blooming Christmas cactus. But it was beautiful, and a bountiful gift of the season. And best of all, it didn’t last long enough to do any real harm to the plants in the garden, which a sudden, rock-hard freeze would have done.