Monday, January 31, 2005

Interior Photos Posted

Whew, I have finally posted interior photos. You can access them from the sidebar. Of course, the house has evolved since these photos were taken. I'm doing my best to keep up!

My naughty cat prefers fishy-poo's water to her water dish. So far, she hasn't figured out that there is a fish in there. Posted by Hello

Look Ma, I Can Sew!

I learned to sew in Home Ec. I made a red gym bag and a pillow that looked like a chocolate chip cookie. I got a B- on the bag because I failed to backstitch my seams. The cookie pillow came out a bit better, but my dog later ate it. (I guess it looked too much like a real cookie.) I then entered a sewing hiatus until college, when I turned out a couple of tote bags, Christmas stockings, and curtains on my mother’s machine. I didn’t touch a sewing machine again until Saturday.

Despite my past masterpieces, I am “sew retarded.” I have always had trouble threading the machine and setting up the bobbin. My teacher took care of that in class, and my mom threaded the machine for me at home. Despite my mother’s help, I inevitably created horrific thread snarls that had to be cut out of her machine. Thread and I don’t get along.

I bought a sewing machine this past November from a sweet lady who had received it as her high school graduation gift, about 25 years ago. It is in great condition. She had taken good care of it and still had the extra parts and the manual. I was very thankful for the manual because it included a diagram on threading the machine, my Achilles’ heel. However, I lost the manual soon after, in the pre-house-warming cleaning frenzy. Without the directions, I was afraid to even try to thread the machine, and so it sat, sadly unused. Finally, I used an Amazon gift certificate from my brother-in-law, Dave, to buy Sewing 101, hoping for a threading diagram.

On Saturday night, I decided that it was time to conquer the sewing machine. I opened my book to the threading diagram and saw that the machine pictured in no way resembled mine. I was on my own. First, I wound thread onto the bobbin. It wasn’t too hard. Next, I experimented with threading the machine in different configurations until I found one that looked right. Thanks to Sewing 101, I knew that there should be some tension on the thread and that the needle is threaded from left to right. Then, I inserted the bobbin into the bobbin case and the bobbin case into the machine. I turned the drive wheel, the needle descended, and, like magic, my bobbin thread pulled up. I still wasn’t convinced that I had all the threads in the right places, so I sewed a test line on some scrap cloth. The machine stitched smoothly. There were no snarls. It was beautiful!

My project for the evening was hemming a piece of red and gold Thai silk, which I then hung on the wall. It turned out well and I even remembered to backstitch. Then, I called my mom and shared my success. Hooray, I can sew!

Two More Tangerine Sprouts

This is just a quick progress report on the citrus project. If anyone is trying this at home, my advice is to BE PATIENT. I planted the tangerine seeds in November, and 2 more shoots appeared this weekend, bringing the total to 5 plants. Nothing else has sprouted, but I have hope.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Krazy Kool-Aid Lady

Mike had quite the deprived childhood. His mother denied him and his siblings colored liquids. They were only allowed to drink apple juice and lemonade in the house. Oh, the cruelty! His mother did this, not out of sadistic urges, but to minimize the effect of spilled juice*. I completely agree with her tactics.

The common reaction to being deprived something when young is to indulge in it as an adult. In Mike’s case, that means endless pitchers of red, purple, and blue Kool-aid. I think he might actually enjoy the lemon-flavored variety, but he refuses to drink it. If it isn’t brightly colored, it’s no good.

Kool-aid is heavily pigmented. For awhile, kids were actually using it to dye their hair. As you can imagine, Mike’s Kool-aid causes me endless cleaning horror.

He is pretty careful about spills. He knows that the room with a white flokati rug is a Kool-aid-free zone. In fact, I can only think of one thing that he actually spilled Kool-aid on – brand-new, 100% cotton sheets, while they were on the bed. I don’t want to know why he was drinking fruit punch in bed. He still denies that he was responsible, but I can think of no other explanation.

The messes primarily happen during the mixing process, and so, are confined to the kitchen. Mike dumps the Kool-aid (sugarfree mix) into the pitcher and adds water. Because the Kool-aid powder is so fine, an almost invisible cloud rises from the container and settles on everything within a 3-foot radius – the white windowsill, clean dishes in the drying rack, the pale yellow counters. Inevitably, these surfaces later get wet, and that lovely Kool-aid dye leaves brightly colored stains. It drives me nuts to wipe a seemingly clean counter and then see that my sponge is florescent pink. I go batty when I set a cup on the windowsill and later discover a purple ring. The pink haze on the dish rack mat sends me into a cleaning frenzy.

Cutting off the Kool-aid is not an option, so I’ve come up with another plan to relieve my frustration. Mikey Jr., like his father before him, is only going to drink apple juice and lemonade. Then, when he gets married and drives his wife crazy with Kool-aid rings and residue, I’ll laugh and laugh and laugh all the way to the nut house.

*Since publishing, Mike tells me that they weren't allowed to have brightly colored drinks because it would stain their lips. Kim, is this true?

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Illiterate Heaven

When I enter a bookstore, I head directly to the bargain bin to look for interior decorating books. They are my adult comic books – short on prose, long on images. To me, heaven is curling up with a decorating book and thumbing through pages and pages of glossy, color photos. Who needs words?

It all started innocuously enough in Japan. When I was bored or lonely, I headed to the PX and mini-mall on Camp Foster. Inside the mini-mall was an AAFES bookstore that was always jammed with service members and spouses. Flipping through magazines and books was free entertainment, and the selection was 20 years more current than the library’s. I wandered into the “Local” section and bought a copy of Blue and White Japan, by Amy Sylvester Katoh. Soon after, I bought Japanese Accents in Western Interiors, by Peggy Landers Rao and Jean Mahoney.

These two books opened my eyes to the exotic shopping mecca I was located in. The gift shops on base and in town were revealed as treasure troves of obis, laquerware, and step tansus. For a while, I had a mania for all things Japanese. Then, I wandered into a Ramayana.

Ramayana is a Japanese import store with goods from Thailand, Indonesia, India. I discovered that I preferred the opulent style of these countries to the somewhat sterile Japanese style. Soon after, I entered my first military spouses’ gift shop, also filled with selections from the Far East, including Korea. My collection grew until every inch of my barracks room was covered with exotica. I once had two children over and when they stepped inside, they were transfixed by the curtains, scarves, masks, fans, lamps, and palms. To complement my collection, I bought every decorating book I could get my hands on.

The AAFES bookstore had a small and inconsistent arts and crafts section. New decorating books seldom arrived, but I bought every one. I searched Amazon for books on exotic interiors and spent a fortune. Now, with less disposable income, I comb the Borders bargain bin and frequently raid the library. I often receive books as much appreciated gifts. My collection has grown to 19 decorating books, and even after repeated perusals, I can still spend an afternoon paging through them.

I’ve listed the titles below, with asterisks next to my favorites.

Blue and White Japan, Amy Sylvester Katoh
Japanese Accents in Western Interiors, Peggy Landers Rao and Jean Mahoney*
Island Style, Jim Kemp India Style, Alexandra Bonfante-Warren*
India, Henry Wilson Morrocan Style, Alexandra Bonfante-Warren
Morrocan Interiors, Lisa Lovatt-Smith
African Style, Sharne Algotsson*
Ty's Tricks, Ty Pennington
Trading Spaces: Behind the Scenes
Trading Spaces: Color!*
Reader's Digest Complete Book of Home Decorating
BHG Style by Nature
BHG New Decorating Book*
BHG Easy Decorating Makeovers*
HGTV Before and After Decorating*
Creative Room Styles Living Together, Erica Lennard and Denis Columb
Trade Secrets from Use What You Have Decorating, Lauri Ward

A Morrocan Fantasy. My favorite room from my decorating books.  Posted by Hello

Satan's Heat Gun

Monday was the most depressing day of the year. It wasn’t my personal most depressing day, rather it was the day of the year when most people are feeling the post-Holiday letdown, abandoning their New Year’s resolutions, and receiving the Christmas credit card bills. I was on the phone with my mom on Monday night, lamenting my lack of motivation for home improvement projects, when she told me not to feel bad, it’s the most depressing day of the year! Well, the Pollyanna in me figured, it can only get better from here.

In the spirit of Tuesday being the day after the most depressing day of the year, I decided to TURN ON THE HEAT GUN. I bought a bright orange, heavy duty, 3-pronged extension cord over a week ago, but then was so overcome by the downward slide into the most depressing day of the year that I hadn’t used it to plug in the heat gun. Last night, I climbed out of the pit of despair, donned leather gloves, and went to work.

The heat gun wasn’t scary at all. On low, it so reminded me of a hair dryer that I was tempted to use it as one. However, I remembered the admonition against such practices in the instruction manual. On high, it was a little frightening, emitting a red glow like the fires of Hell. Actually, that part was kind of fun. The scariest thing that happened was the heat, or the fumes, or both, set off the fire alarm at the top of the stairs. I disconnected the alarm battery and was not startled again.

While the heat gun works (i.e. it softens the glue enough to scrape it from the stairs), the scraping process will take a while. It takes repeated passes of the heat gun and quite a bit of force on the scraper, to remove the glue. My hands tire quickly. At an hour a day, though, I should be done in a week or so.

After I finished last night’s scraping session, I found myself in a conundrum. The instruction manual, which I pored over, states that the heat gun must remain upright until it cools. If it is set on its side while still hot, the entire thing will dissolve into a puddle of plastic and wires. So, I stood there, like a dumb-dumb, holding the heat gun, waiting for it to cool. Five minutes later, I started to really feel stupid. After all, something that heats up to 1000 F takes a while to cool. The heat gun came with a handy-dandy loop on the top of the barrel, for hanging it upright while cooling. I just didn’t have anywhere to hang it. I finally put my ingenuity to work and looped some chain over a pipe on the basement ceiling, attached an s-hook through the bottom links, and hung the heat gun up. I think that was my proudest moment of the night. I could tell we were rapidly leaving the most depressing day of the year behind.

Monday, January 24, 2005

And the Winner is…..RED!

When I was in grade school, we took standardized tests at least once a year. I found them rather dull and invented ways to entertain myself while taking them. One of my favorites was to pretend that my answer sheet was a visual representation of a horse race. Whichever letter was marked the most, won. In my head I could hear the announcer: “A has taken the lead, with C a close second. E is coming up from behind, taking the last three questions. It looks like a dark day for B and D….”
I’ve left standardized tests, but not dull tasks, behind. I now use a similar diversion to entertain myself while sorting laundry. Most people sort into whites, colors, and darks. I sort whites, reds, blues, greens, grays, and blacks. The color pile that can make a complete load wins. Amazingly, I usually have a full load of reds. Blues, greens, grays, and blacks are usually a half load each, with whites weighing in at a mere quarter load. Still, there is the excitement of perhaps having an entire load of green, thanks to our green towels. After sorting, the fun continues. I find it fascinating that the washer water becomes tinted the same color as the load, no matter how many times the items have been washed. The dryer lint is also color coordinated.
Instead of classifying my behavior as eccentric, I believe it is quite normal. It is human nature to find categorizing a satisfying activity. The brain is a pattern-finding organ. We use these patterns to sort information in virtual “bins” for easy integration and recall. We make sense of our world, and our laundry piles, by sorting and labeling. Who knew laundry could be such a cerebral exercise?

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Stinky Hummus

I perfected this hummus recipe during my vegan phase. The hummus doesn't stink, but your breath will!

1/4 C tahini
1 t dark sesame oil
1/4 C fresh lime juice
1 t salt
2 cloves pressed garlic
1 can garbanzo beans, drained (reserve the liquid)
1/4 C chopped black olives (optional)
3 T finely chopped fresh parsley

Combine 1/4 C bean liquid and all ingredients, except parsley, in a blender. Blend till smooth, adding additional bean liquid if necessary. Spoon into a bowl and stir in parsley.
Serve with bread, tortilla chips, or carrot sticks.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

The Great Citrus Experiment

The experiment continues. . .

Kumquats. On January 8th, I began soaking kumquat seeds. Have you ever eaten or even seen a kumquat? It looks like a tiny, oval orange. You eat the entire thing, rind and all. In fact, the rind is sweet, and the flesh is tart. It is an interesting experience. I slowly consumed about a dozen, and harvested the seeds, over a period of about 2 weeks. As I spit each seed out, I dropped it into a glass of water. As you can imagine, the water was a disgusting mix of seeds, spit, and flesh. On Thursday night, I decided to change the foul liquid and noticed a few of the seeds were floating. On closer inspection, I realized that the floating seeds had germinated and little green shoots were poking out of the seed case. I planted the four sprouting seeds immediately. The rest are soaking until they show me signs of life. I assume that the sprouters were some of the seeds I first started soaking. If so, they only take about 12 days to germinate.

Lemons. On January 9th, I started lemon seeds soaking. Following Joyce’s instructions, I planted them after a week. It’s been four days and there are no sprouts yet. If lemons are as slow to grow as my tangerines, it could be two months.

Tangerines. In early January, a third shoot appeared. I don’t think any more of the seeds will sprout. After more research, I’ve discovered that you should not allow citrus seeds to dry out before attempting to germinate them. My tangerine seeds did dry out, and remained dry for a few days, before I began soaking them. That may account for the slow sprouting and poor germination rate (about 30%).

Limes. I buy limes at least twice a month to make hummus. I’ve been very disappointed to find that the variety I find in the grocery store has no seeds. I am hoping to make the rounds through some ethnic grocery stores to find a kaffir lime with seeds. Kaffir lime leaves are used in Thai dishes and I’d love to have a fresh supply.

Planting all of these seeds is lots of fun...but I am worried that I will be overtaken by trees. At my present rate, I am going to need more pots and soil shortly. As soon as the weather warms up (it is currently 11.5 F), these babies are going outside to grow. I hear that citrus trees make great gifts, so perhaps many Cincinnatians will be receiving a lemon or tangerine or kumquat tree next Christmas.

Winter Sowing

Through my reading of the Ohio Valley Gardening website on GardenWeb, I’ve learned of an exciting winter gardening activity: Winter Sowing. Seeds can be started in Dec – Feb, outdoors, in mini-greenhouses made from deli containers, milk jugs, etc. Many seeds actually require a cold period before germinating. Winter sowing is a great way to get a jump on the gardening season and save money on plants.

I’ve ordered a catalog from Park’s Seeds and, following this advice, I’ll choose seeds that will germinate with the winter sowing method. The plants will go into my flower and vegetable gardens in the spring.

If you would like more information on winter sowing the Winter Sowing forum (also on GardenWeb) is a good resource.

Happy sowing!

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Heat Gun Intelligence

I’m proud to say that, last night, I took the heat gun out of its box. I confess; I am afraid of the heat gun. I fear it like I once feared my jigsaw and still fear my sewing machine. As Sun Tzu advises, I undertook to know my enemy in order to conquer it. I read the owner’s manual.

The manual was both amusing and frightening. Amusing: “Do not use the heat gun as a hair dryer.” Frightening: “Wear a dust respirator mask of a dual filter respirator mask for dust and fumes…Disposable paper masks are not adequate.” Now I wish I had saved a gas mask from my military days. On the other hand, I’m pretty sure now that the linoleum we removed had asbestos, so my lungs are shot anyway. Also frightening were the admonitions against eating and drinking in the work area and the recommendation to decontaminate one’s body, clothing, and shoes after a work session. I disregarded most of the warnings, but was stopped short by the half page devoted to the need for the product to be grounded.

We have very few grounded outlets in the house. We have circumvented this obstacle for many of our appliances by using a temporary grounding adaptor. However, when using such an adaptor, the metal loop should be held in place through the central outlet screw, thus grounding it. Perhaps it is because we have old outlets, but the plug loop and the outlet screw never match up, and so we live in constant danger of electrocution. I flirt with death each time I use my Hoover or anything plugged into a power strip (TV, computers, lamps). (They do not make two-pronged power strips!) In the case of the heat gun with a three-prong plug, I decided not to risk it.

Last night’s maneuvers were limited to a fact finding mission. I refuse to turn the heat gun on until I buy a three-pronged extension cord long enough to reach a grounded outlet in the kitchen or sunroom. The stairs are not worth risking certain death for. Watching TV probably is.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Ugly Stairs

We have some UGLY stairs. Long ago, someone decided to apply linoleum on just two stairs. Next, the entire staircase was covered in disco carpeting. Upon moving in, we tore the two layers up. The end result was not pretty and the discovery of linoleum on the bottom steps was quite disheartening. We had to use a scraper and a hammer to chisel it off. We’ve been living with a staircase that looks like this for the past 3 months.

We’ve gotten used to the ugly stairs. I bought a vacuum cleaner and sucked up the gray powder left from scraping at the carpet backing. Once my feet and floors were powder free, I stopped noticing the backing at all. I don’t even “see” it as I go up and down the stairs. As others have discovered, it sometimes takes a visitor to realize that your house resembles a construction site. My eyes were opened when we had our housewarming. Our guests seemed generally delighted with the house, but their jaws dropped (in a bad way) when they saw the stairs. My friend Jamie later confided to me that her boyfriend, Matt, wanted to help me get started on them right then and there!

Although I wouldn't let a guest perform physical labor at the party, I did solicit advice. Matt recommended that I use a heat gun to remove the glue and backing. In theory, the heat softens the glue and then the offending material can be scraped off. I bought a heat gun and leather gloves two weeks ago. Alas, I have not even opened the box. I promise, I’ll tackle at least once stair tonight, or maybe tomorrow night, or maybe this weekend….

If anyone of my readers has experience using a heat gun, removing glue, or refinishing stairs, I would love to hear about it!


I am officially in stalling mode. I fill my blog with grand designs and yet, when the weekend comes, I accomplish none of it. Instead, I manage to make “cleaning the house” occupy an entire 3 days (holiday weekend). In my spare moments, I decorate and call it “home renovations.”

Since painting the kitchen cabinets, I have accomplished very little. I hung a mirror yesterday. I badgered Mike until he reinstalled the hinges for the kitchen cabinets. (Yet, the doors remain on the spare bed.) My crowning achievement was screwing a doorstop on the sunroom door.

I am procrastinating because the next renovation task is a big one: stripping the carpet backing and linoleum glue off the attic stairs. I am afraid I’ll burn something with the heat gun or simply make the stairs impassable and the bedroom inaccessible. I keep telling myself that I’ll just work on it a little each night, tackling a stair or two before bed. Once I get going, I’ll probably obsessively slave away. It’s the initiation I am having trouble with.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Indian-inspired Guest Room

Photos of our Indian-inspired guest room are now posted.

Friday, January 14, 2005

To Act or Not To Act

Next Saturday, the Covedale Center for the Performing Arts is holding auditions for Jesus Christ Superstar. I last performed in musical version of A Christmas Carol. Its director and much of its cast and crew will be involved in this next production. I originally intended to audition, but I have changed my mind.

Musicals are exhausting! Not only are there acting rehearsals, there are also singing and dancing rehearsals. It is a whole bunch of fun, but a great time commitment. During the last show, I managed to work, rehearse, and make home improvements, but I suffered for it. I missed so many dinners and so much sleep that I was always scrounging for food (Halloween candy for dinner!) and scheming to sneak a nap under my desk.

I’ve reached my activity saturation limit and something’s got to give: work, Mike, home improvements, or acting. With my grand kitchen and garden plans in the works….acting loses out.

Don’t you wish you could do it all? I once read “Beggars in Spain” in which scientists tinker with the human genome to create children that have no need for sleep. While normal people slumber, the “sleepless” are productive. I would volunteer to become one of the “sleepless” in a heartbeat!

Unfortunately, I am not superhuman and have to set priorities. I have to work, I love Mike, and its time to nest. Choosing not to audition is also good news for the blog; I’ll have something to write about.

P.S. While linking to the Amazon page for “Beggars in Spain,” I learned that this book is part of a trilogy. Looks like I found myself some more reading for the bus!

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Drunken Decorating

Decorating is something best done sober. However, once I have a few drinks, I start feeling “creative.” I have had good results with drunken creativity in the past. In Okinawa, I went through a period where I would arrive home after drinking at the O-club and spend a few hours covering items in washi paper or folding origami cranes. My projects turned out well. Now, however, the stakes are a bit higher. My creativity extends to making permanent changes to the house. If you see me drunk and looking to be crafty, please hide the drill and hammer.

Drunken decorating should be a crime. If it’s late at night, you know your neighbor has been drinking, and then you hear the sound of hammering, please call the police. Your neighbor is better off in protective custody than causing wanton destruction. Perhaps they’ll be handed some origami paper while in the drunk tank.

It isn’t the making of holes in the wall that is a problem. I can hit a nail and hold a drill while intoxicated. The problem is numbers. I can’t seem to measure or perform basic math while under the influence.

My first experience with drunken decorating was when I tried, after two beers*, to hang a mirror. This project only required driving two nails in the wall, but thanks to my impaired measurement and observation skills, I had to hammer one of those nails in three different spots. While ripping it out of one spot, I took a large chunk of wall out with it. The mirror looked great when I finished, if you overlooked the gaping hole in the wall next to it.

A few weeks later, I decided, with the help of a couple glasses of wine, that it was time to install an embroidered hanging on the living room wall. This time, I wrote my measurements down to avoid any mistakes. Still, I couldn’t add and concluded that 45 plus 35 equals 70, not 80. I didn’t realize my hole was in the wrong place until I had drilled it and nearly finished pounding in a hollow wall anchor. Thankfully, Mike was there to pull it out, once I realized my error. I suppose my accuracy had improved since my last project; I made only three holes, where two were needed.

The moral of the story: drinking and decorating don’t mix, especially if your screw-ups are going to leave a mark. Friends don’t let friends decorate drunk!

*yeah – I’m a lightweight

Monday, January 10, 2005

Wild Kingdom

After spending Sunday with my friend Kathy, I arrived home to my empty house. Cleo greeted me as I came in the door, but Mike has been gone on a trip since last Monday. I thought it would cheer me up to build a fire.

I went out the back door to get wood. I found that the back porch was covered in ice cream. I had set a container out to thaw so that I could dump the ice cream down the drain and then throw away the container. A week later, the ice cream had evidently melted and the local wildlife had gotten into it. I stepped around the puddle and continued to the gate, leading to the side yard. Somehow, the latch had become jammed shut and I couldn’t open it. I went back in the kitchen door, trying to avoid the ice cream mess.

I walked through the house and out the front door, closing only the glassed door behind me, and got the wood from the side yard. When I opened the glassed door to come in, the cat ran outside. I set the wood down and chased her. After catching her, I carried her in, and shut the door.

I carried the wood to the fireplace and began to prepare it. After some experimenting, I figured out how to open the flue (Mike did this last time). There were ashes from our Christmas Day fire to clean out. I stepped into the sunroom to grab a plastic bag. On my way back in, I noticed a drop of white goo on the floor. I figured that I had tracked in some of the ice cream, but was still puzzled, because it was not on the path I would have taken from the kitchen to the front door.

As I cleaned out the ashes, the cat stepped into the fireplace to explore. I chased her out. Then, I went to the basement for some kindling (cardboard). I soon had a lovely fire going and sat down to program the VCR to record the season premiere of 24 for Mike. I had just completed this task when I heard a crash within the house. I figured it was Ms. Cleo, and got up to clean up the mess.

She was not on the first floor. I climbed the stairs to the bedroom. It was a wreck. The blanket that hangs on the end of our bed was on the floor and one of our hanging lamps was no longer hanging. The lamps have a beaded edge and hang only 18 inches or so from the top of our bedside tables. I had figured that the cat would someday decide that they were irresistible toys. I rehung the lamp and went to find my kitty and ask her why she was being so naughty – running away outside, climbing in the fireplace, and pulling on my lamp.

Cleo was crouched in a corner, beneath a table and more hanging lamps. I thought that she was contemplating attacking those as well. I walked over to her, squatted down, and began petting and talking to her. Then, I realized that she wasn’t stalking the lamps at all. There was a bird in the corner.

I’m not sure what happened next. I think she sprang, the bird flew, and I froze in shock. The bird landed on the top of the curtain rod, above my closet. At this point, I put my gender to shame and started screaming. This seemed to excite the cat even more. She jumped onto the dresser next to the closet, slid on the runner, and upset my knickknacks. The bird disappeared.

Normally, I would have been amused in a situation like this. Or I would have been matter-of-fact and taken action. Instead, I could only think of how there was no one here to help me and that I would soon have bird guts all over my bedroom. After a few moments of hopelessly muttering “what the f**k” to myself, over and over, I realized that I had to help myself.

I picked up the cat, took her downstairs, and shut the door. I opened the upstairs window. My plan was to turn off the lights and shoo the bird towards the window. They will fly towards the light. I went to the other window, to shut the shades, and noticed that there was bird poop on my headboard. I started looking for the bird. It wasn’t in my bed (thank God!). I had last seen it near the closet, so I headed back over there. It was no longer on the curtain rod. I picked up the curtain, and the bird hopped out of its folds and onto the closet floor. It didn’t look too lively. I grabbed my garbage can and, surprisingly, easily corralled it. The only problem was that my garbage can is collapsible, and the bottom is only a flap. It fell in, leaving the bird in a tube. I grabbed a cushion and capped it. I needed something better to move it in.

I searched my bedroom for a container, and instead found bird blood splattered on the wall and feathers everywhere. Oh, the horror! I moved to the first floor. Ironically, I have a birdcage collection, but none of them were suitable for this situation. Finally, I found a small wicker basket in the basement. I easily replaced the tube/cushion cage with the basket. I then slid a clipboard beneath the basket and carried my cargo downstairs. I went out the back door, through the ice cream again, and dumped the bird out on the deck. It just looked at me. I suppose it was exhausted from the chase and blood loss.

I took my Fantastik, rubber gloves, and paper towels upstairs to clean up the poop and blood. As I cleaned, I wondered, “Where the hell did the bird come from?” It had to have been in the house a while, because the “ice cream” I had found on the first floor was actually bird poop. Cleo did not have a bird in her mouth when I brought her back after her escape. I found no holes in the attic closet. All the windows and doors were shut. It couldn’t have come in the flue, unless it came in, pooped on the floor, and then flew upstairs, all in the 5 seconds or so I spent getting a bag from the sunroom. I think I would have noticed if it had come in when I opened a door to enter or exit. I’m confounded.

From the way Cleo chases her feather whip, I knew she would heartily enjoy playing with a bird or mouse. I am afraid that unless I find out how the bird got in, I will have more uninvited guests. Next time, I may not find them until Cleo is done torturing them. A little blood and crap is nothing compared to picking up the pieces of a disemboweled bird or mouse. How in the world did that bird get in my house?

Sunday, January 09, 2005

A blue tile countertop, in someone else's kichen. Posted by Hello

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Do-it-yourself countertop

My kitchen counters are yellow and warped. As a part of the kitchen’s update, I have been planning on replacing the countertop. My dream countertop is a blue and white speckled Corian model. However, at $75 - $77 a square foot, my 31 square foot countertop becomes prohibitively expensive. I’ve looked at laminate, but, although the price is right, I haven’t been able to find any I like. I am now seriously considering making my own countertops.

For a do it yourself project, I prefer tile, rather than laminate. Tile is very durable and I can get it in almost any color. On the downside, a glass dropped on it will shatter and it can be difficult to clean debris from the grout lines.

It looks like I can create a countertop from 3/4 inch plywood topped with concrete backerboard and then tile. My counter is L-shaped, so I won’t have to do any fancy cutting, except for the sink. I may have to add additional braces to support the weight of the tiles. I think the hardest part of this project will be removing the old countertop and disconnecting/connecting the sink.

Some questions I have:

1. How should I cut the two pieces of the “L”? With a mitered joint? Is a mitered joint necessary if it won’t show? Should the backerboard be cut along the same lines? How should I join the two legs of the “L”? Glue? A screwed-on brace below?

2. Should the backerboard be sealed before applying the adhesive and tile? I’ve read that sealant is recommended in moisture-prone areas, but I’ve also read that the sealant may prevent the adhesive from making a good bond between the tiles and the backerboard.

3. Can the backsplash tiles be applied directly to the wall, or should I put backerboard on the wall? I did read that backerboard should be applied to the counter edges, before tiling there.

Scott – I know you’ll have some words of advice!

Friday, January 07, 2005

Kasmira's favorite stores

I love to shop. I used to concentrate my efforts on clothes shopping, but now that I have a home, I prefer to buy things for it. A portion of our monthly budget is set aside for “home improvement,” but I am always stretching its definition. "Home improvement" currently includes things like plants, decorator fabric, and lamps, as well as paint, tools, and hardware. I am also continually stretching that portion of the budget. If we trim our entertainment, eating out, and grocery expenses, I can get a few more things for the house!

As a budget-minded, yet luxury-inclined, shopper, I am always on the lookout for a store that offers exotic items for bargain prices. For your benefit and amusement, I have written reviews of my favorite stores below.

Hobby Lobby
I LOVE THIS STORE. This is my new favorite place to shop. Hobby Lobby is like Michael’s only better. In fact, Hobby Lobby kicks Michael’s ass! This store has everything crafty, plus home accessories. The craft selection is amazing. The home accessories are exotic and affordable. This section includes furniture (chests, armoires, and tables), a large lamp selection, and every sort of fancy tchotchke you could desire. I first visited our local Hobby Lobby on Thursday night. Although I desperately had to pee, I couldn’t resist walking down “just one more aisle…” If I could, I would live there. I could set up one corner of the store as my little “house” and redecorate it every day…Is that so crazy?
Right now: They are having a great sale on Christmas and Home Décor items. All of the clocks are 50% off.
Drawback: Hobby Lobby is closed on Sundays! Hobby Lobby, if you are reading, I want to let you know that the Lord wants us all to shop on Sundays. I’m sure you could find some heathens to run the cash registers.

Cost Plus World Market
This is a warehouse style import mart. CPWM has everything Pier One has, only the selection is bigger and the prices are better. This is also the place to find imported and ethnic foods. If you want to save on spices, they sell them by the bag for 99 cents. Just refill your current container and thumb your nose at the grocery store oregano price of $4.49. CPWM has GREAT hours. Open 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. (or is it 10 p.m.?)
Right now: 50% off all Christmas items! They have some really neat hanging glass lamps in the holiday aisle. I just bought two.
Drawback: Some things are still overpriced…wait for sales. And I really, really wish they had an online store! The website is just a tease!

Kirkland’s bills itself as “affordable luxury.” I think that is an accurate description. You’ll find Kirkland’s in a small space at the mall. They have nice home accessories for good prices. I bought a gorgeous chandelier for $70. They also carry things like framed pictures, throws, and lamps. . Their inventory turns over pretty quickly, so if you like something, buy it immediately.
Right now: I haven’t been to Kirkland’s since before the holidays. I imagine they are having a post-holiday sale.
Drawback: It is small, at the mall, and it always seems to be crowded.

TJ Maxx
You may think of TJ Maxx for cheap clothes, but they also have a small housewares department. They carry a nice selection of luxury housewares, like velvet throw pillows and 200-thread count sheets, at discount prices. They also carry many imported items, made of wicker and bamboo, if you like the exotic look. Perhaps most fun of all, is perusing the unwanted odds and ends, like REALLY ugly lamps and vases.
Right now: Isn’t every day a sale at TJ Maxx?
Drawbacks: TJ Maxx definitely has the worst atmosphere. The store often has a funky smell and the cashiers always look like they’re about to slit their wrists.

If you don’t have these stores in your area, I pity you. Kirkland’s and TJ Maxx sell online, but the selection is different from what you’ll see in the stores. Now, I’ll just wait for my kickback from these businesses for linking to them, and then go shopping!

Ebay lamps

I’m still a newbie to the whole Ebay thing. I first tried to use Ebay two years ago to buy a flokati rug. I must have bid on four rugs, in succession, and was outbid on every one. I became very frustrated with the process. I was sure that there were people who cruised the auctions with only hours or minutes left and managed to get the last bid in, before the previous bidder could respond. I couldn’t sit at home all day, waiting for an outbid notification, so I ended up buying a rug outright from a vendor in Colorado.

I tried Ebay once again in November. This time, I was looking for turquoise fabric, to make a bed skirt and pillows. I found the most beautiful fabric, and was, again, outbid at the last moment. I bid on three more pieces of fabric, all at once, and “won” only one. When my fabric arrived in the mail, the color was too green, so I ended up buying a turquoise sari from an Ebay store.

I must be an optimist, because I turned to Ebay once more in my search for a hanging lamp for the living room. I first bid on an orange, silk, hanging-style lamp. Again, I was outbid. By this time, I was convinced that the correct strategy was to bid on multiple items, hoping to “win” at least one. I bid on three lamps – a red glass and black iron lamp, a red fabric lantern, and an orange-red beaded lamp. This time, no one outbid me. I won all three!

The red glass and black iron lamp arrived first. It was broken and stunk of cigarette smoke. I am currently negotiating with the seller for a refund. The fabric lantern arrived next. I liked it, but put it aside until the beaded lamp came. The beaded lamp arrived in pieces. It took me over an hour to put it back together. Thankfully, all the beads were in the box. Some of the wire loops were missing, and I had to fashion replacements from paperclips in order to attach the beaded strands to the frame. The beaded lamp is my favorite, and I hung it in a previously dark corner of the living room. The fabric lantern is a perfect replacement for the heinous torchiere lamp in our bedroom.

Although I love the last two lamps, I wonder if Ebay is really such a good deal. After the costs for an unwanted item and shipping, did I get the lamps for less than I would have retail? Yet, Ebay has an undeniable pull. First, the selection is incredible. Second, I can shop from home or *gasp* work. Third, the items are often “one of a kind.” Last, bidding is thrilling, especially when you are hoping someone will outbid you so that you don’t have to buy everything you bid on. Overall, I’m happy with my purchases. Now I just have to deal with the credit card bill!

Click here to see the lamps I considered, bid on, and won.

Thursday, January 06, 2005


On Monday, Mike demonstrated his electrical prowess, once again, by installing a new light switch. The lights for our attic bedroom could only be turned on or off from the switch located at the bottom of the stairs. This is convenient when entering or exiting the bedroom. However, it is a bit annoying when you’ve been laying in bed, reading yourself into a stupor, and then have to disturb your sleepy fog to go downstairs and turn off the light. If you are me, you are wide awake by the time you have sprinted up the stairs and leapt under the covers, narrowly escaping the clutches of the monster under the bed. Our new switch allows us to turn off the lights while languorously remaining in bed.

We originally thought that the solution to our problems would be to install a 3-way switch. In preparation for the project, I began my usual internet search. I was quite intimidated by the wiring diagrams and instructions I found. Then, I happily stumbled across the Wireless Wall Switch from SmartHome. A receiver/switch replaces the old unit and a sending switch can be placed wherever you like (within 50 feet). It creates a 3-way switch without the wiring mess. The price was a little steep (30 bucks), but we decided that the convenience was worth it.

Once again, I was in charge of the breakers and Mike did the wiring. However, no matter how he wired the darn thing, it wouldn’t work. I came to the rescue by locating a small switch at the bottom of the plate. Although the switch is not mentioned in the directions, it has to be slid to the right before the toggle is active. We were a bit befuddled by the need for such a switch. The only sensible explanation I could come up with is that, by switching it off, you could clean the toggle without a disco light effect. Once we had that sorted out, the toggle worked. We put batteries into the sending switch and tested it as well. Success!

There is still a small problem….The receiver consists of a switch plate with a large box behind it. The box does not fit into our current workbox (metal box in the wall the holds the wires in place). The hole is too shallow and the switch box sticks out at least 1/2 inch from the wall. Not only is it unattractive, but the switch is also in constant danger of falling out of the wall. I am not sure what to do. It is not a simple matter of cutting the drywall opening larger. Instead, I think we need to replace the workbox with a deeper box. I am afraid that will involve more wiring than we are prepared to tackle. Any suggestions would be welcome.

We have not decided where to mount the sending switch. In the meantime, we are keeping it in a bedside drawer. We used to argue over who had to get out of bed to turn off the light. Now, we fight over who gets to use the remote (and the monster doesn’t stand a chance)!

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Kitchen cabinet make-over

Over the New Year holiday, I painted our kitchen cabinets. Thankfully, there was no asphyxiation involved – I used latex paint.

When we moved in, the kitchen cabinets were dark brown. The cabinetry had been updated by a previous owner with new doors and drawers. The doors are beaded hardwood, while the cabinet framework is made of a lesser quality wood (maybe MDF or HDF). The drawers are interesting…they consist of plastic tubs, with wooden drawer fronts. The tubs are easy to clean, but do not hold as much as a conventional drawer because the sides are curved. The kitchen had potential to be a bright and happy place, but the dark cabinets were really bringing it down. I decided to paint them white to match the current door and window trim and the future wainscoting.

Choosing the paint was a bit of an ordeal. I first purchased KILLZ latex primer and Behr semi-gloss latex paint. I then did some research on the internet and realized that I needed an oil-based paint. It holds up better than latex in a high-use area, like a kitchen. I didn’t want to deal with the smell and clean-up of oil-based paint, but I also wanted the finish to last. Mike and I returned the paint and primer and consulted the Home Depot paint department on paint choices. We were informed that, with the recent advances in latex paint, it was nearly as durable as oil. According to the employee, the only advantage of oil is its “self-leveling” properties (which I later found out means that it doesn’t show brushstrokes). We walked out of Home Depot with items identical to those I had returned: KILLZ latex primer and Behr semi-gloss latex paint. I should have trusted my first instincts!

Once home, I washed the surfaces with TSP. Mike followed behind me with fine-grit sandpaper and a tack cloth. He then removed 110 screws and 22 hinges to detach the cabinet doors. I moved the doors and drawers to the basement to paint. (On hindsight, we should have removed the surface-mounted hinges and then washed and sanded. There was invisible rust/grime/dirt beneath the hinges that bled through the paint.)

Most of the internet references I found on how to paint kitchen cabinets gave instructions to paint the doors and drawers in place (i.e. do not remove them). That was not an option for us because the hinges on our cabinets are a fancy shape and mounted on the outside of the doors (surface-mounted). We would have had to either 1) paint the hinges or 2) do an elaborate taping job. Even if the hinges are on the inside of the doors, I recommend removing the doors and drawers so that you can paint them in a horizontal position. I was able to apply fairly thick coats without worries of drips on the faces. One coat of primer and two coats of enamel left me with glossy, white doors and drawers. I cleaned up any drips around the edges with an X-acto knife, after the paint had dried.

Unfortunately, I had to paint the framework (stiles) in its installed, vertical position. Because of drip worries, I applied thinner coats. It took one coat of primer and three coats of enamel to get even coverage. I couldn’t use a roller because it applied too much paint and resulted in drips. I had to use a brush for all of the paint application, and ended up with those dreaded brush marks. Oil-based paint may have eliminated the brush strokes, but I think it may have been more runny and drip-prone. I would have liked to have tried a foam brush to minimize brush marks.

I am updating the cabinet hardware. The existing hinges are rather ornate and I would like to keep them. However, they were a dirty brass color, so I painted them silver with a spray paint formulated for metal. I used four light coats and got good coverage while maintaining movement in the hinges. I bought 110 zinc screws to match the new hinge color. Finally, I ordered cobalt blue knobs to replace the present metal knobs. The knobs will match the future blue countertop. I am allowing the doors and drawers to cure in the spare bedroom while I await the delivery of the knobs.

Even without the doors and drawers, the paint job makes the kitchen look much brighter. I considered going with a white and yellow color scheme, working with the original appliances and counter top, but they desperately need replacing. The next two tasks will be ordering a new counter top and stripping the walls. I will begin tackling the walls this week – removing painted layers of wallpaper. Whee-ha!

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Still no pictures

I am sorry, there are STILL NO PICTURES to be posted.

I work at the headquarters of a large company. It is a city within a city. We have a gym, an infirmary, a convenience store, a cafeteria, a bank, two coffee bars, video/DVD rental, and photo drop-off. I thought it would be very convenient to drop off my film here and then pick it up again, 3 days later. I dropped it off last Tuesday and it still isn’t back! Perhaps it is the mad holiday schedule that is keeping my prints. In the meantime, I am going nuts with anticipation.

I’ll check tomorrow, and I will hopefully have pictures to scan and post. I feel so helplessly and hopelessly analog!

In defense of my villain

Every good story has a conflict. I try to contain my ramblings within the framework of a story, with a beginning, middle, end, a good guy, and a bad guy. Naturally, I am the good guy. In my search for a villain, my literary eye alights, more often than not, upon my husband.

Mike is that most dastardly of villains, Oil Can Harry. In his criminal spree, he runs down the birdfeeder, litters the house with dirty laundry, and pokes endless fun at me. He straps poor Pearl Pureheart to a log and sends her towards the grinding millhouse saw. Then, I swoop in and set things aright with a cry of “Mighty Mouse is on his way!”

But, I have drawn an unflattering caricature of my dear Mikey-poo, so I’d like to set the record straight.

I love him with all my heart and he delights me endlessly. Yes, he’s messy and sarcastic, but I knew that before I married him. I still have hope that I can beat the messy out of him and the sarcasm is highly entertaining (when aimed at some other hapless victim). Although I portray his idiosyncrasies as irritating, they make me smile more often than not. If fact, I often walk the halls at work with a grin on my face and a smothered giggle in my throat, thinking of something silly he had done the day before.

But, if I filled my posts with accounts of us making goo-goo eyes at each other, you would probably choke to death on your own vomit.

So, for the sake of an interesting story, he remains cast as one of the forces of evil with whom I do battle. I just thought he deserved the chance to have the rest of his story told.

Saturday, January 01, 2005

Home Security

I love a clean, attractive, well-organized home, but none of that matters if it is not safe. Before we found our house, we lived in an apartment, just south of UC, on Ohio Avenue. I rarely felt safe. The area was crime-ridden. Because our air conditioner was nearly useless, we slept with the windows open and were treated to the nightly sounds of drunken fights, car accidents, and, once, a shooting. I was thankful that our apartment was on the third floor and that the walls were brick. During the day, things didn’t seem so bad and I often walked from our apartment to the pool or Starbucks or Blockbuster. However, I rarely completed a trip without being accosted by a homeless person or being subjected to sexual comments from drivers and pedestrians. Living there was uncomfortable.

Our new home is in a much better area, but still within the Cincinnati city limits. I’ve noticed signs that the previous owners of the house were security conscious. The basement windows are barred and the basement door has security glass. All four outside doors have multiple locks – thumb lock, dead bolt, and, on two doors, slide latches. Even the door leading from the house to the basement has two slide latches. Mike and I joke about the monsters a previous owner must have kept down there. Every window has a lock. The backyard is lit by an enormous floodlight. Despite, or maybe because of, the locks and bars, I have felt safe in our new house, until Wednesday night.

The previous owner came by to pick up some packages and I used the opportunity to ask her a few questions. The kitchen door (leading to the backyard) and its locks are obviously new, so I asked her why they replaced the existing door. She revealed that the original door had been KICKED IN while the house was vacant. I took this all rather calmly, but after she left, I was keenly aware that I was all alone, at night, in a house that had been broken into.

Should I be worried? I have an over-active imagination. Sometimes, I run and leap into bed for fear that the monster beneath it will grab my ankles. I often refuse to go in the basement at night, because the Grudge, or the bogeyman, may be hiding down there. Now my fears are less fantastical. I am worried about an actual “bad man.”

Mike, of course, tells me not to worry. However, he is the sort of person that believes that denying a thing makes it not so. (For instance, when in the middle of Nowhere, Montana, smoke from the engine compartment flooded the interior of my car, and he said, “Smoke? I don’t see smoke.”) His words offer me little solace. However, an exhaustive, 3-hour search of the internet (most trusted of sources) has failed to reveal that I am in danger. The neighborhood looks fairly safe and, through citizen actions, is becoming safer. But I am still thankful for the bars and locks.

Monster under the bed Posted by Hello