Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Spring Is Coming!

In honor of our beautiful weather (61 degrees) I present to you my favorite flowers.   Roses . . .

. . . and peonies.


Saturday, January 21, 2012

This Is How I Live

My sister asked me if I thought I'd ever finish my house.  Yes, hopefully, before I die.  My mother says I should have put a sign up--"Under Construction."  Right now I'm painting furiously.  I try to do a litle each day.  Paint cans are everywhere.  Exterior and interior.  Oil-based and latex primers, enamel, ceiling.  I got it all.  Ladders, plastic sheeting, a joint compound bucket, sanding blocks, dropcloths, bare lightbulbs and outlets exposed.  It's unpleasant to live this way, but the job cannot be rushed.  Paint needs to cure for a month, especially on windows.  I hope to finish the kitchen this snowy weekend.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

It Tried to Snow

It tried to snow yesterday.  Basically it was about an inch.  I didn't even shovel.  Maybe it'll be like the winter of 2007 when I refused to shovel (we didn't get much snow then, either).

So in honor of our beautiful, warm, snow-less, el Nina winter, I'll show you pictures from last year's horrible winter.  The misery cannot be contained in these images.  Just trust me, may I never see that much snow again, ever.

It was actually scary, like it would never stop snowing.  And when would it ever melt?  I remember in March when it was warm enough that the snow started melting all night long.  Joy!

Driving was a nightmare.  Multiple-lane roads became single-lane.  Pulling out of a shopping center became dangerous because snow piles were over ten feet high and you couldn't see the traffic.  One night coming home from work I couldn't find a street that my car was capable of driving on.  I kept driving around until I found a suitable route to my street.  One morning I went flying off the icy stone step of my front porch and smacked my shoulders and back.  I couldn't have company until March because my street had become so very narrow that there was nowhere to park.


Look at the size of this icicle!


Christmas 2011

Last year was the first time in my life that I didn't get a Christmas tree.  The kitchen renovation had started.  This year was lovely.  It was nice and warm.  I took the week off before Christmas to get ready.  I started sanding the woodwork in the kitchen--what a mess!  I'm still cleaning up.  Then I primed, caulked and painted.

On the 19th I got my tree from a nursery which had a coupon--40 dollars for a huge, beautiful balsam fir.  It was the perfect height for my almost-nine-foot ceilings.  I'll probably do this again next year because otherwise the cost might be double.

I had to throw away two strands of lights, then the new ones I bought from CVS didn't all light up.  I bought a cute lighted wreath for the porch.  I had seen one on a friend's house and really loved it but I didn't have an outlet until last year when one was installed during my kitchen reno.  Now I don't have to use a super-long extension cord going around the side of the house from the deck out back.  It's hard to tell but the wreath is on the left and there are lights strung on the wisteria.

Monday, January 16, 2012

I Need Motivation!

I thought I would list what I've done to the house in the last five and a half years, then what is left to be done in order to get my butt in gear and ADD under control so I can finish up all my various projects.
  1. Painted and primed every wall except the beadboard in the kitchen (which was removed and stored due to the kitchen renovation) and the three upstairs closets.  The parlor was wallpapered (I hired someone after a failed attempt due to very, very crooked walls).
  2. Ripped up rugs that were in every room except the bathroom, kitchen, parlor and office.
  3. Patched holes, and refinished (hired) the wood floors on the first floor.
  4. New light fixtures in the parlor, dining room, office, upstairs hallway, kitchen and bathroom.
  5. New matching switch plates throughout except for a pretty one in the dining room that I had in my old condominium (and the kitchen now has different ones due to the renovation).
  6. Bought matching lace valances and curtains for the first floor except the dining room and bathroom, which have valances from my mother).  Also, bought white tab-top insulated curtains for the first floor (except the bathroom) for the winter.
  7. Removed plywood kitchen backsplash, patched, primed and painted the walls, and affixed four decorative tiles.
  8. Bought two new couches, four area rugs, two new chairs, a double bed, got a new-to-me desk from a friend, and took two end tables and a nightstand from my mother.  I also picked up a discarded nightstand off the sidewalk one street over and an end table my brother had thrown away.  
  9. Repurposed a cabinet from the basement for the kitchen as extra counter space and storage (as I only had about nine inches of counter).
  10. Bought a new refrigerator when the original one started leaking.  Had to take down two upper cabinets due to it being one-quarter inch too high.  Laid one cabinet on bricks next to my cooktop, then put the other one on top, with bricks separating them, for yet more counter space.  Tacky, but useful.
  11. Re-caulked the bathtub and fixed the leaking bathtub faucet by replacing a tiny part.
  12. Sewer man removed the yard sewer vent and replaced the curved underground pipe with straight in order to stop clogging, which caused my laundry sink to overflow with raw sewage in the basement my first winter.
  13. Installed (with my brother-in-law) an arbor for the two wisteria vines in the front yard.
  14. Removed (with my sister) weird beams overhead on the deck.
  15. Extended the porch garden to line up with the front border.
  16. Planted a cottage garden in the strip below the stone wall in  the front side yard.
  17. Transplanted daffodils, crocus, a peony and hostas.
  18. Planted a huge garden out back.  Removed invasive Japanese knotweed all over the back yard, and creeping into the sides.
  19. Installed a mowing strip of bricks (found here and from my mom) in the back garden.  Used pavers found here for edging in the cottage garden.
  20. Re-organized the shed and moved and re-installed brackets.
  21. Dug up goofy edging in front border and porch garden.  Reinstalled it on its side in the porch garden to make a mowing strip.
  22. Bought a reel mower, pots, birdbaths, birdhouse, bird feeder, weedwacker and various garden tools. Also got some from my mom.
  23. Removed various weird disconnected wiring for music, telephones, security system, and broken doorbell.
  24. Removed satellite dish with my brother-in-law's help.
  25. My brother-in-law installed a new front outdoor faucet after the old one wouldn't stop leaking.   Had to remove front of plywood enclosure to the coal bin in the basement for access.
  26. Dismantled previous owner's homemade desk in the office, accordion-pleated door in the office closet, and TV stand in the master  bedroom.  Moved his trellis from the front of the house to the side of the shed.  Installed lattice panels (found in the shed) on the shed.
My greatest accomplishment thus far, though, has been removing the asbestos shingles and painting the original clapboards.  That is quite a process, written about here. Whew!  I'm tired just thinking about all that.

What I have left to do:
  1. Hire someone to build steps off the deck.
  2. Fix my porch (scrape, sand, prime, paint, new roof, replace three rotted boards and rotted front piece on apron, and figure out how much else needs to be replaced).  Install a new light fixture.
  3. Hire someone to restore original railings and balustrade on the porch?  I'm not sure I could do this myself.
  4. Wash, prime and paint all ceilings except bathroom and kitchen.  Remove sprayed-on stuff in the hallway and dining room.
  5. Finish removing asbestos shingles from house above the porch, a small portion above the deck, and the west side.
  6. Finish painting the house--above the porch, small section next to the deck, very small section above the deck, and both sides.
  7. Paint or stain the deck.
  8. Paint all exterior doors.
  9. Replace all exterior storm doors.
  10. Install wooden shutters and shutter dogs on the front six windows.
  11. Scrape, sand, prime and paint all interior trim, windows and doors (except the kitchen which hopefully will be done soon).
  12. Replace the ugly wrought iron stair rail upstairs.
  13. Install white oak upstairs?
  14. Hire someone to build a bathroom upstairs.
  15. Paint stairs Rockport Gray.
  16. Replace ugly banister.
  17. Repaint bathroom, guest room, office, dining room, hallway and master bedroom.
  18. Finish up kitchen painting.
At least my to-do list is smaller than my "done" list.  On the priority list is finishing the kitchen painting (in-progress) and painting the stairway trim and stairs.  See those ugly stairs with the barn red and white peeling paint?  I really want to get that done before gardening season hits.  I'd love to repaint the hallway Revere Pewter but can't see that happening until next fall when it's too cold to be outside anymore.

One of my problems of late is the aftermath of the kitchen reno.  Since the stove is so much closer to the main front door now, I no longer use that entrance.  (Like many Victorians, I have two front doors).  So now that I'm using the side front door, I switched the living room and dining rooms.  I think it's a better use of space and makes more sense to enter a living rather than dining space.  Also, it's a bigger space, which I need for a living room, not a dining room.  My brother gave me his huge television which doesn't fit in my armoire so I put that in the office and the TV in my parlor.

My current living room is 1/2 of a double parlor.  The picture above shows the space being used as a dining room (the yellow room), as it was when I first moved in.  At that time I used the other half of the parlor as my formal room, with rose toile wallpaper, feminine decor and a chandelier.  Now it's basically the TV room.  Technically it would have been the room the family used as its informal parlor, but I had to go and make it all fancy!  Dumb, but what did I know?  Now I feel like the ceiling fan which is now in the dining room, which previously functioned as my living room, should be in the parlor.  The chandelier should go in the dining room, or even living room.  The dining room gets really hot, though.  But I only use it for entertaining anyway.  Otherwise I'm eating in front of the TV like every other person who lives alone.

Are you following all this?

So of course now I'm obsessed with repainting the dining room, and find all my other color schemes unacceptable.  I was going to change everything to a more modern, neutral space but realized I really love my double parlor colors of rose and yellow.

I was going to paint the "new" dining room (the green painted room adjacent to the stairs, above) Martha Stewart Malted and the living room Dune, but I just couldn't let go of my cool color palette.  So I decided to just tone done the palette a little with gray.  I realized sage green would be appropriate for a dining room and it would coordinate with my new kitchen color (Martha Stewart Milk Pail).  It's also the color I had in my living room and kitchen in my condominium, and I loved it.  I think I'm going with Salisbury Green for the dining room.  If I get around to repainting the living room it'll be Weston Flax (which I have on the exterior and LOVE) or Hawthorne Yellow.  I'll probably repaint the office Hollingsworth Green to coordinate with the dining room; it would also look good with the rose toile wallpaper, which I still love and don't want to change yet.

Here's the dining room currently, except I turned the table 90 degrees for a better use of space.  I can't stand that bedroom-y, pale green (Sherwin Williams Cucumber) for a dining room.  I had toyed with the idea of getting darker furniture and a round table but I still like my butcher block trestle table and it was a housewarming gift from my parents when I bought my condo.

The Great Nor'easter - Saturday, October 29, 2011

Wow, this was a doozy.  We'd gotten snow a couple days before, which was really weird.  It wasn't bad enough to cause any problems, but it did stick around.  You can see it on my neighbors' garage rooftop and on the table on the deck (I was still painting outside at this point because fall was warm and gorgeous).

The snow started in the early afternoon, coming down fast and furious.  It quickly weighed down the trees and bushes. It was a wet, heavy snow.  Things were made worse because most of the leaves had not fallen yet, due to our warm autumn.  People said they heard cracking all night from trees and branches falling.  I did not, but I did hear thunder and saw lightning.  It was very windy as well.

Back yard.

We got about a foot.  It melted fairly  quickly, as the next day was beautiful.

From the living room window.

However the devastation was unbelievable and widespread.  In Connecticut it was mostly in the central part of the state.  Most people around here were out of power for at least five days.  It was the wild, wild west. My brother told me the storm really beat up his body.  He had many trees and branches fall, one blocking his garage.  He's on well and septic, so there was no water, no heat and no toilets.  He would bring water up from a brook down the road.  Finally he got a generator because my nephew is severely handicapped and needs a breathing machine at night for his lung problems.

The day after the storm I decided to go over to my sister's house.  She lives about a mile and a half from me. I got so scared I turned back.  There were downed wires, limbs and trees everywhere.  I tried again but the road to her house was blocked off.  Her neighbor's dog had been electrocuted by a downed wire early that morning. It was just scary. I wouldn't let my cats out until I got power.

It got really cold inside without heat.  I have gas for my stove and I'm on sewer so at least I could flush the toilet and take a shower.  I was able to take two showers with warm water, then it got cold.  It was like living in the era in which my house was built!  You had to do chores in the daylight hours.  Otherwise, you had to use candles.  I would come home and read under a quilt by candlelight.  We learned that tapers are better than glass jar candles due to less flickering.  Then I would go to bed with two quilts on me.  It was warm enough for sleeping, but getting out of bed and washing up for work was painful.  I heated water for a sponge bath on my gas stove.  We have it so easy in our time.

I hadn't heard from my boss, so I went in to work that Monday.  We had power.  Every day was an adventure trying to find roads that weren't blocked and intersections with signals working so there wasn't a traffic jam.  Restaurants with power were jammed.  The large mall nearby had power and was crammed with people trying to stay warm and entertain their kids (school was cancelled for a week or two depending on location).  Then there was the Great Gas Shortage. I was low on gas and there were few stations with power.  Ergo, long lines for gas, like in the 1970's.  Stores were also running out of food.  Afterwards, there were shortages at places like McDonald's because they had to throw out so much food.

I hadn't seen a power company truck until mid-week.  I figured on my little, obscure street it would take a long time to get power back but mine went out on Saturday night around 8 p.m. and returned on Thursday at around 6:45 p.m.  There were power crews from all over the country helping out.  My sister got hers back the next night, and my mother the night after that.  The chief executive officer of Connecticut Light & Power resigned afterwards.

After the storm there were piles of branches and trees at curbs everywhere.  My huge pile was just picked up last week by the town.  I still hear the sound of chain saws.  The weather's been warm and sunny since then with a couple days of really cold weather.  Awesome!  It's great to be rid of 2011--year of floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, blizzards, an earthquake and October Nor'easter!

This proved to be an eye opener at my lack of preparation for emergencies.  Next time I'll have food, gas, batteries (stores were running out of them), matches and candles.  It could have been a lot worse.  It could have been in the winter, with pipes freezing and bursting and snow and ice to contend with on the roads, as well as trees, wires and branches.  Overall, I think there were some deaths due to carbon monoxide and an electrocution or two, but I didn't hear about people dying due to inability to get to the hospital.  I did hear that one person had to be taken  from a truck driven across neighbors' lawns to an ambulance, though.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

For the Love of a Cat

This is my Rudy.  When I moved into my house on June 7, 2005, I noticed him.  I used to shoo him away because my cats didn't like him, it seems.  He was pitiful; sad-looking, like my neighbor said.  He's pretty, dark grey, has round green eyes and looks like a Russian Blue.  He's huge, solid, a real macho tomcat, but he's actually very sweet, affectionate and playful.  Oh, does he love to play!

I took to feeding him.  One very early morning when I was in agony with an infection in my toe (I'd had a growth removed), I went out on the deck and there was my little boy, lying down in the garden.  When he heard me he looked up and softly meowed.  I took that to mean he was there for me in my pain.  I know that's really goofy, but I actually thought that.  He's good company.

In September that year it pretty much rained all month.  One morning I looked out the kitchen window and Rudy was sitting in the wicker chair.  He looked up at me with his sad eyes and meowed.  Right then I knew I would adopt him because I couldn't bear the thought of him being cold in the upcoming winter.  I had called the animal control officer and he said there was nothing he could do with cats.  He said why don't I adopt him and I said I already had two cats.  He said it sounds like you're getting another one; what's his name?  I said "Rudy."  Oh, I didn't want another cat!  Two cats is too many, never mind three.  But I had already named him.  I decided that he wasn't too feral because he let me pick him up briefly.

I decided to trap him.  I picked him up and he got away, but he didn't fight me much.  It's almost like he wanted to be caught.  I grabbed him tighter and was able to get him in the cat carrier.  I brought him to the veterinarian with the idea that if he had AIDS, I would have him put to sleep.  He was like a "wild animal" at the vet's and actually leaped from the examining table to a window ledge about six feet away.  The vet said he would have to sedate him.

I think I picked him up and sequestered him in my guest room until I had the results.  Rudy's test was negative.  Unfortunately my vet nor I didn't think to give him flea medication or check him for worms, so he infected my girls.  He was VERY expensive.  I had to go to a special animal pharmacy about 45 minutes away for one of the medications for Carly.

The girls didn't take well to Rudy.  I'd come home from work and he'd have bloody cuts from when they beat him up.  He's much bigger than they are but they rule the household.  It took a year before he'd defend himself by "cat-boxing."  Then another year to stand his ground and not leave when they attacked him to get him to leave their presence.  Now he'll even talk back to them, but he NEVER hisses at them or fights with them.

However, Rudy is high-maintenance. He freaks out when I have to catch him to take him to the vet's.  He still won't let me pick him up whenever I feel like it.  I guess it's post-traumatic stress syndrome.  He insists on going out all the time, even when it's below zero.  He just has that need to scope out the neighborhood and protect his territory.  He taught my girls both to growl and spray.  Fortunately the spraying is confined to my landscaping or the neighbor's porch (don't tell!).

So last winter was the WORST WINTER EVER.  I mean, breaking all kinds of records.  I happened to be getting a new kitchen then.  One day in late January while getting ready for work, I let Rudy out for his usual little saunter.  He usually scratches the storm door after a few minutes to come back in.  Unfortunately that day a contractor showed up early and scared him away.  It was freezing cold that day; there must have been two feet of snow on the ground already and more frigid temperatures and a blizzard was scheduled for that night.  Other contractors arrived and I knew it would be hopeless to try and get Rudy to come in the house (he's terrified of pretty much everybody except my neighbor, my sister, my mother and me).  I figured he'd be waiting for me on the porch when I got home from work.

Except he wasn't.  I started calling him and figured he'd show up.  He didn't.  I became frantic, walking around in the neighborhood.  We'd recently had an ice storm and it was treacherous.  I fell and bumped my head in my neighbor's driveway.  Rudy sometimes hangs out in their garage, which they usually leave open.  I think I drove around the neighborhood that night, calling for him.  I didn't know what to do.  I started crying and praying.

The next day was beautiful--much warmer and sunny.  There were actually some people outside.  Since I don't shovel the side or back of my house, I slid down the yard on the side (it's a somewhat steep slope) on top of the snow and ice.  The ice was thick.  I tramped all over the back yard calling him.  I thought I heard a faint cry but didn't know if I were hearing things or not.  Again I drove all over the neighborhood, asking people if they'd seen a dark grey cat.  Someone told me not to worry, that cats are resourceful and could find a place to stay safe.  I wanted to believe him, but I was terribly anxious.

I went back inside, not knowing what to do.  I prayed "God, You can do anything.  It's nothing to You to bring my cat back.  I want my cat!"  I then had a feeling that I should go back in the yard, where I had shoveled paths in case he came back.  Now I realize that was unnecessary because Rudy could walk on top without falling in too deep due to the layer of ice.  I was determined to walk the whole yard carefully and my neighbors' back yard, where he hangs out a lot.  I kept calling and finally heard, distinctively, Rudy crying.  I finally figured out he was in the basement of my neighbors' garage (it's on a slope).  I went down from my rocky ledge into their yard and climbed up their snow-laden back steps.  My neighbor did not answer the door.  I scaled the hill on my stomach, like a rock climber, due to the ice, and ended up on their buried motorcycle trailer.  I made it onto the driveway and up their front porch.  My neighbor wanted to wait until her husband came home.  I told her I'd shovel the path if she'd give me the key.  She wanted to call her husband home early.  I told her I'd wait, but I was ticked.  She said he was good with animals and he could get Rudy out.  I knew darn well Rudy would not come anywhere near him.  I went home to wait and took off my boots and socks.  I couldn't figure out why my socks looked pink.  I had cut my legs walking through the ice-encrusted snow.

My poor neighbor came home from work and shoveled the back steps down to the side door of the basement of the garage.  He saw Rudy, but Rudy was not budging.  I told the neighbor that Rudy wouldn't come out with him there, so he went back up the stairs.  Rudy still wouldn't come out.  The neighbor's wife said to call her when Rudy finally came out so they could lock the door.  Well Rudy took his sweet time coming out.  I was shaking a bag of cat food out my bathroom window for him to hear, like I had done the night before, to no avail.  Finally I went back outside in my yard, calling him, and suddenly there he darted, all nervous-acting, and hurried up the side of my neighbor's yard, jumped onto their front porch, down their walkway, took a left onto the street, and a left onto my walkway, up the porch and into the house.  Safe at last!  Poor baby.  He was so scared.  Since then he's been a lot more apt to stay near me!

Like I said, he's high-maintenance.