Thursday, March 31, 2005

Freecycle Mulch!

I joined Freecycle about a month ago after reading of another houseblogger who found free appliances from the group. So far, I’ve given away an office chair and an iron (we had three!) This weekend, a family that desperately needs furniture will come to take our two blue loveseats away. I’ve also received. I picked up some sweaters (although those didn’t work out for me) and, yesterday, Mike and I picked up 10 trash bags of shredded wood.

It’s hard to see from the picture, but there are two large fir trees planted along the sidewalk. I like them because they make our lot seem more private and give the house a “cottage-in-the-woods” feel. However, as you can see from the photo, they cast deep shade on the lawn. The grass beneath the trees is sparse. The trees also create quite a bit of litter – branches and cones.

Currently, each tree is ringed with rocks. The rings are filled with mulch. Between the two rings is a wasteland of roots and mud. My plan is to create a large oval of mulch, with the trees at either end. That means less and easier mowing for Mike and less picking-up of fir cones and branches for me.

To create the mulch, I had the bright idea of sending the downed tree in the backyard through a woodchipper. After investigating the price of renting a chipper, I found it to be not cost effective. Instead, I put an ad on Freecycle, asking for a woodchipper or to borrow a woodchipper or for wood chips. We were offered wood chips by a nice man east of the city. Yesterday, we drove to his place and shoveled 10 trash bags full of mulch. That tired Mike out and filled the car.

I know I’ve become a house geek when I sit at work and anticipate the moment I can go home to spread mulch. I’ve got it all done in my mind. The branches are trimmed up to a manageable height, the mulch is piled high, our silly little concrete bench is planted between the trees, and ferns dot the new landscape. The best part, though, is that the wood chips were FREE!

Monday, March 28, 2005

A Little Bit of Monica

Every weeknight, I settle in for an hour of Friends. If one of the episodes is a rerun, I usually don’t watch. However, due to my intermittent access to television over the years, I’ve still probably haven’t seen half of the shows. Joey and Phoebe are my favorite characters; Joey because he reminds me of my friend Ryan, and Phoebe just because you never know what is going to come out of her mouth. But the character I most resemble is Monica.

Yes, I’m a Monica. I’m an obsessive compulsive cleaning freak. In my dream world, my home is always ready for the cover of House Beautiful. Every weekend, I vacuum, scrub, dust, and wipe it to sparkling perfection. I can spend hours moving furniture or accessories from one place to another, trying to get just the right look. Having everything arranged "just so" gives me enormous satisfaction.

Like Monica, everything in my home has an appointed place. The recliner has a precise positioning that allows for it to be reclined without hitting the coffee table or blocking the sunroom door from opening. I find it vexing when Mike has disturbed its alignment. When we first met, he likened my barracks room to a museum. He even tested me by moving items to see if I’d notice. I always did. Now, he often accuses me of “hiding” things like his shoes or wallet. I always correct him: I have put them “away,” where they “belong.” (Who doesn’t agree that shoes go in the closet?)

Unlike Monica, I do not ENJOY cleaning, although Mike accuses me of it. I like having a clean house, but I don’t like making it clean. I tolerate the chores because the result is so rewarding for me.

I’ve met other Monicas. I happened to mention my cleaning frenzies to a coworker and she was excitedly sympathetic. “Do you have OCD, too?” she whispered. She wears her compulsiveness as a badge of honor. She proudly told me how all of the light switches in her kitchen (controlling the garage, kitchen, and porch lights) have to be aligned before she can leave the house. I was grateful to her for providing me some ammunition when Mike becomes frustrated with my fastidious ways. See, I could always be worse!

You might think that I was always like this, but, I wasn’t. I was a messy kid and a sloppy teenager. I was always frustrating my mother with my “half-way” cleaning jobs. I was fairly piggish in college too. In fact, the only reason my living quarters weren’t completely squalid was that my boyfriend was freakishly tidy.

I guess my Monica ways started in the military. My barracks room was the first place I ever had to myself. No family. No roommates. No housemates. No cleaning staff. I had my own bathroom, kitchenette, living area, and bedroom. As an officer, I wasn’t inspected, so I was on my own merit to keep it clean, and keep it clean I did. There is nothing like the pride of ownership to inspire orderliness. Perhaps there is a lesson there for my future children…

So, I’ve finally admitted it to the Internet world. I’m a Monica. Are you?

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Spring Cleaning

My cheeks are a wee bit pink. I’m fair skinned and just a few hours outside today (in the shade!) have left me with a slight sunburn. It was worth it though.

After the dear appliance people delivered my NEW STOVE AND REFRIGERATOR, I squatted in the driveway to assemble my new wheelbarrow. I’d be damned if I was going to pay the Home Depot people an extra $10 for an assembled wheelbarrow. I then proceeded to tour the yard and fill the barrow. I pulled up the mysterious corn-stalk-like plants, deadheaded the hydrangea, picked up 1000 fir cones, cleared the lawn of branches, and snipped dead annuals. I dumped at least 5 wheelbarrow loads into my new compost pile (no bin built yet).

I learned why you are supposed to rake up your leaves in the fall. Left on the lawn, the grass beneath them dies. Left on the sidewalk or driveway, they compost themselves to mud. I raked and swept what I could. I need to get a shovel to get the rest of it off the driveway.

I’ll be visiting my nieghborhood Home Depot tomorrow for more tools. I need a spade, a shovel, and a lawn edger. Question: can you use a spade as an edger, or is worth investing in a separate tool?

Overall, I had a lovely time outside. As my sunburn indicates, it was sunny. The temperature reached 52. My neighbors might have thought I was odd, but I enjoyed crawling about the wet lawn, tossing fir cones into the wheelbarrow. I had an up-close view of spring’s stirrings. There are quite a few unknown bulbs sending up leaves. The mint (whose woody leftovers I trimmed today) is vigorously beginning its growing season. One of the most exciting parts of owning a pre-owned home is the surprises the first spring brings.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Sari Bedding

A few weekends ago, I completed the bedding in our guest room by making a bed skirt and throw pillows from a gilt-embroidered, turquoise sari. A sari is the perfect for this application. Saris are long (5.5 to 9 yards) and decorated along the edges. By cutting the sari in half, lengthwise, I had ample fabric to wrap three sides of the box spring. There also was no need to hem the bottom edge of the skirt because the sari edges are finished, as well as embroidered. One end of a sari is usually heavily embellished, often in gilt thread. This is the end that is usually thrown over the shoulder of the wearer. The elaborately decorated end is perfect for the throw pillow covers. The only caveat I have about using a sari is that the embroidery is often not applied square to the fabric. I had to make some compromises when cutting squares for the pillows.

To construct the skirt, I first cut a bed sheet to within 4.5 inches of the sides and bottom of the box spring top. (For reasons I’ll explain later, I recommend cutting the sheet so that it is no more than 2 inches shorter than the sides and bottom.) The bed sheet will be hidden under the mattress, so you can use any old ugly sheet.

Next, I cut the embroidered end of the sari off, and then cut the remaining length in half. One length was not long enough to wrap the box spring, and two lengths was too long, so I cut one of the lengths so that, joined, the two would wrap around the sides and bottom of the box spring, with an allowance for pleats at the corners. I joined the two lengths of fabric with a French seam (my first). If I could do it again, I would have cut the two sides to equal lengths, so that the seam would have been centered at the bottom of the box spring. It could have then been easily hidden inside a decorative pleat.

This is a tailored bed skirt, vice a gathered bed skirt, so I had to take care at the corners. In order for the skirt to fall correctly over the corners, you must make inverted pleats. I followed the tutorial at My pleats were technically correct, but because they were placed so high (4.5 inches from the vertical fall) they didn’t look pleat-like once the bed skirt was assembled and in place. If I had made the top sheet a little larger, the pleats would have started closer to the edge of the box spring and fell more nicely.

I pinned the sari lengths and created the pleats with the skirt in place on the box spring. I recommend this method because it allows you to check that you have folded the pleats correctly. Pinning in place also highlights any measurement errors. I discovered that I had made the skirt about 24 inches too long. To compensate, I gathered the excess material in a deep inverted pleat at the bottom of the mattress. Although the pleat at the foot was an accident, I love how luxurious it looks. If I could do it all over again, I would have added two pleats along each side, as well. The sari was certainly long enough.

The pinning and pleat-forming was the most tedious part of the process. The sewing went quickly. I then fit the completed skirt to the box spring and admired my handiwork. The skirt hangs fairly straight, although the corners ride up a bit (due to the too high pleats). The French seam ended up near a corner and, unfortunately, on the visible side of the bed. However, if you are not looking for the defects, they aren’t obvious.

The pillows were straightforward. I used the fancy part of the sari for the front and excess fabric from the other end for the backs. I had some old, 19-inch square pillows that I used as the pillow forms. To close the pillows, I slip-stiched for the first time, guided by my Sewing 101 book. They came out nearly perfectly.

The skirt and pillows make the bed look much more finished. Although the box spring is a pretty blue, it’s nice to have it concealed. The newly skirted area under the bed is now a favorite hangout for the cats. Unfortunately, they’ve already managed to put tooth and claw marks in the fabric during their fights. I try to look on the bright side. If they ruin the skirt, I’ll just have to make another, with a bigger top sheet, more pleats, and a hidden French seam.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Tornado Season

I’m acutely aware that it is tornado season in Ohio. I am terrified of tornadoes. I grew up under the threat of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. We actually had earthquake drills in school. In Okinawa, I weathered several typhoons and worried about tsunamis. There, the local base school conducted monthly tsunami drills where the children would walk up to the “high ground” of the PX. Despite exposure to the constant threat of a natural disaster, tornadoes scare me like no other phenomenon.

During the summer of 2003, I visited my husband’s parents in North Dakota. His mother has a NOAA radio in the kitchen. The first time it squawked a warning, I was ready to run to the basement and strap myself to a pipe. Mike just laughed and then instructed me to ignore any notifications unless they were a “warning” for that county. Still, just a “watch” had me at the windows, looking for a funnel cloud. Once, when the air seemed heavy and the light took a reddish cast, I was sure that the radio was wrong and a tornado was on the way, but I had just worked myself up into a needless panic.

The next summer, we flew to North Dakota and then drove to Cincinnati on a house hunting trip. On our return, as we approached Minneapolis, there was a tornado warning just south of us. We hurried to a hotel and checked in. Moments later, a guest entered the lobby behind us, claiming to have seen a funnel cloud down the street. I wanted nothing more than to get to a “safe area” (the interior hallway), but everyone else wanted to GO OUTSIDE AND LOOK! Once in our room, we turned on our television and Mike determined that it was safe for us to walk across the parking lot to eat at a Mexican restaurant. No twisters touched down in the area, but I spent the whole meal wondering where I could run to and how many of our fellow patrons would be sucked away should a tornado cut a swath through the restaurant.

When we moved to Cincinnati, I had no idea we were in a tornado zone. The area is hilly, and I thought tornados only developed over flat places. When I first started working downtown, I discovered otherwise. The city tests the warning sirens monthly. Our building has maps of the safe areas listed on every floor. Yesterday, my coworker told me about the tornado that touched down north of here in 2002 and killed five people.

Last Saturday, tornados were the last thing on my mind. I had braved the cold long enough to trim the roses and make a trip to Home Depot. I was relaxing on the couch, enjoying the sounds of my new fountain and an opera CD, when I heard a strange sound in the background. I looked out the window to see hail falling from the thunderstorm that had been predicted for the day. Normally, I delight in electrical storms. I’ve had some dicey moments in the open in Yosemite, but for the most part, I love to watch the lightening streak across the sky and feel and hear the thunder’s rumble. That day, I was enjoying being indoors as the storm raged around the house. Mimi sat on the table behind me and didn’t seem to mind the weather. We were both a bit surprised by the intensity of the thunder. The windows and wall hangings shook from the sound waves cracking through the air. Finally, after one flash, the rumbling just kept going and going and going. It seemed to get louder, as if something were approaching. Suddenly, I recalled how the sound of an approaching tornado is described as a freight train coming towards you. Convinced I was in the path of a tornado, I bolted for the basement. Halfway down the stairs, the sound stopped. I sheepishly returned to the couch, to see that Mimi hadn’t budged. Despite the adage that an animal will warn you of disasters like earthquakes and tornados, I didn’t trust my kitty alarm and turned the radio on. I was chagrined, once again, to hear no mention of the weather on the radio, just the usual pop and dj prattle.

My false alarm hasn’t made me any less afraid of a twister. I still entertain morbid fantasies of what would I do if a tornado struck while I was waiting for the bus or driving over the Ohio river or shopping at Biggs. I’m ashamed that I didn’t grab my kitties when I ran to the basement on Saturday. I’m completely preoccupied with the tornado threat. I suppose I should just be glad that I don’t live in Kansas. I don’t think my nerves could take a truly flat state.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Sunroom Fountain

I’ve been a very naughty girl. I went to Home Depot on Saturday to make some legitimate purchases: an outlet expander, heavy-duty Velcro, and a pot. However, I couldn’t resist wandering into the gardening section. Once there, I saw that the fountain I have been drooling over since December was marked down to 60% of its original cost. I bought it.

You see, the fountain is an essential element to the “sunroom transformation.” Yes, I still have to paint the walls, remove the linoleum tile, level the concrete floor, install ceramic tile, and purchase more plants, but the fountain completes the oasis ambience. The room is already more pleasant.

I ran the fountain this weekend and was surprised by how loud it is and how quickly the water evaporates. With the sunroom door open, I can hear the sound of splashing water from everywhere in the house. It’s pleasant, but I am hoping it won’t eventually get on my nerves. On the bright side, it drowns out any traffic noises. I did have to shut it off to watch t.v. I filled the fountain with six gallons of water, but it looks as if at least two gallons has evaporated in two days. The evaporation rate is incredible. At least the plants are getting the humidity they like.

The cats are afraid of it and Mike is out of town. I don’t know how he’ll like it, but I think that I do!

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Pruning the Roses

What a yucky weekend. Yesterday it was cold with thunderstorms. Today, it is just cold. Still, I ventured outside to do a little yard work. In honor of Spring’s arrival, I pruned the rosebushes.

I’ve never had roses, let alone pruned them, but I was pretty sure they needed pruning. They were so gangly that they had been tied to supports with string, shoelaces, and, no kidding, rope. Last fall, I did enough research on pruning roses to learn that they should be pruned in the spring. Last week, with pruning time imminent, I did a little more research to find out how to prune. Armed with clippers, nippers, and a pruning saw, I went to work.

I started on the rose near the back deck. The plant looked like a prisoner. It was tied to the deck with the aforementioned string, shoelaces, and rope. It threatened anyone going down the steps with a nasty scratch. I pruned into the recommended vase shape. Any canes that extended into areas where people walk where nipped off. The large bush had two very thick, dead canes in the center that I had to use a pruning saw on. The result is posted to the right. The vase shape of the large bush is marred by one branch that droops toward the lawn. It looked so healthy that I couldn’t bear to cut it. I’ll wait until it blooms and then lop it off.

The rose in the front yard is nearly prostrate. It was planted beneath the trees, so it leans towards the lawn for sunlight. As it will never grow upright, I opted for a bent vase shape. I trimmed any canes that would scratch Mike as he mowed the lawn. I cut off frost-damaged tips and freed the plant from its entanglement with a dead annual. It’s a little hard to pick out from the background in the picture (click for a larger version), but with a little imagination you can see the pruned bush.

Roses seem to be one of those plants people are passionate about. While the pruning was fun, and a little dangerous with all of those thorns, I find it hard to get enthusiastic about a prickly, dead-looking bush. I hope I did a good job pruning and will be rewarded with lovely flowers this summer. That, I can get excited about.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Spring Fever!

Last night, I got nine hours of sleep. This morning, the sky was clear and the weatherman predicts a high in the lower 50’s. Sitting at work is absolute torture. I have spring fever!

All I can do with my restlessness is make plans for the weekend. I will be Mike-free, so I think I’ll put together my brand-new wheelbarrow and clean up the yard. I’ll rake leaves and clear the flowerbeds. I have grand pruning plans as well. I am going to prune the rosebushes (which have NEVER been pruned and are tied upright to the deck with rope). I am also going to prune some of the lower branches of the trees. I know the city doesn’t like it when your tree branches bash the heads of anyone trying to negotiate the sidewalk.

Not only am I planning on wounding plants, but I may start a constructive project as well: building raised beds around part of the deck. Although the plan doesn’t indicate it, the top left corner of the deck has a lattice roof. I am going to build the beds around this corner and plant vines to climb the poles and populate the lattice. I’ve been debating between trumpet flower (above) and clematis (below), but I may just plant them both! Building beds with interlocking blocks seems to be within my skill set. I am going to build beds, vice plant the vines in the ground, to escape issues with the clay soil and minimize the shade that the deck casts on the beds. Honestly, all I’ll probably accomplish on this front this weekend is planning the beds and buying the blocks, gravel, and soil, but that’s progress!

Anyone else have springy outdoor plans this weekend?

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Adios 1967 Tappan Gallery Range

Yesterday I went to Angert’s and bought a new refrigerator, and a stove too. Our fridge needs replacing, as it is slowly loosing cooling power. The new stove was a little harder to talk Mike in to.

Yes, our current stove works, but it has issues. First, it is MUSTARD YELLOW. Second, it is has coil burners, which I dislike. And, most damning of all, the oven does not keep a constant temperature. Sometimes it cooks hotter, sometimes cooler. While our dinners usually come out edible, it is nearly impossible to bake desserts in. I suppose it isn’t doing too poorly for a circa 1967 range.

I think Mike was most convinced by the argument that new appliances will make it easier to sell the house. Once we finish the rest of the kitchen renovations (countertops, wainscoting, paint), we can list our house as having an “updated kitchen.”

The replacement appliances are pretty basic. I sprung for spill-proof shelves in the fridge and a smooth cook top and self-cleaning oven in the stove. Angert’s has a great delivery price: $25 for the entire order, and the price includes taking the old appliances away! Good-bye warm refrigerator! Good-bye old stove!

Thursday, March 10, 2005


A month ago, the ice cream was getting soft in the freezer and Mike and I accused each other of leaving the door ajar. Two days ago, Mike mentioned that the freezer, even with the door closed, wasn’t freezing. I suggested that the temperature knob had been inadvertently turned down. We turned it to “coldest.” Last night, I reached into the freezer and noticed that the air inside was close to room temperature. The ice cube trays held liquid water. The freezer is officially dead. The refrigerator portion of the unit is not long behind. It used to freeze our milk, now it is just barely keeping the milk from spoiling.

It’s currently only 22 degrees outside. I read about a family in Canada that turns off its refrigerator each winter and stores perishables outside. I suppose we could do that for another month of so, but spring will come eventually.

According to the home warranty brochure I found in our files, the refrigerator is covered by the policy. However, upon calling the insurance agency, I discovered that our actual policy (which I could not find this morning) does not cover this appliance. The fridge was an “option,” that we did not select.

I don’t have any great love for the refrigerator. It’s the wrong color and it is much too big. Once I’ve cleaned out the moldy leftovers, the remaining refrigerated items look lost in the space. Mike only reaches into the fridge for Kool-aid or string cheese. I need it for milk and dinner items (and hotdogs!). The condiments occupy more of the space than our consumables.

So, should we have someone come look at the refrigerator (I believe service calls alone start at $50) or just buy a new one? My wild buy-buy-buy half is warring with my more thrifty half. Fixing the existing refrigerator is the least expensive option. However, a new, smaller, white fridge will give us more kitchen space, coordinate with the décor, and possibly reduce energy consumption (although I doubt we’ll live with it long enough to realize much of a savings). Can you tell I’m in the process of talking myself into a new refrigerator?

Friday, March 04, 2005

Build Your Own Compost Bin

I am now in receipt of Mike McGroarty’s monthly newsletter. In my internet wanderings, I somehow stumbled upon his gardening website. Although the site often reads like an overzealous infomercial, it is full of great advice and I recommend it to anyone interested in gardening or landscaping. The website is also useful if you want to make “$1,148 in One Day with Plants”! However, I’m not writing to pimp Mike’s get-rich scheme. Instead, I want to share the compost bin idea found in the February newsletter.

Ah, compost. It is the stuff gardening dreams are made of, or so I’ve read. I have never composted. Perhaps you can count the bramble pile behind a house I rented in college. We “composted” by throwing food waste off our back porch into the blackberry bushes. I’m sure the blackberries thrived, but I never recovered the compost for use around the yard.

Now that we have a yard that we must maintain (the landlord mowed the lawn at the rental), we have a surfeit of yard waste: grass, sticks, leaves, and dead plants. Currently, all the cut grass is sitting in the mower (since November), the sticks and leaves carpet the lawn, and the expired plants mark the flower beds. One of these days, when it warms up to at least the 50s (oh, darn, that will be Sunday), I’ll attack the yard with a rake, clippers, and a wheelbarrow. The question is: what do I do with the yard waste?

In Cincinnati, yard waste can be placed with the trash, in containers marked “yard waste,” and the trashman will take it away. However, the city does ask its good citizens to “compost yard waste at home whenever possible.” Add to the argument that composting will benefit both the environment and my yard and I’m sold!

You may have noticed that I make an enormous production out of everything. Composting is no different. I worried myself to death with the question of whether I should buy an expensive composting bin or just start a pile in a hidden corner of the yard. Mike McGroarty came to my rescue with his instructions for building your own compost bin. The structure is simply composed of garden posts and lumber. I’ll need a saw and a shovel (or a fence-post digger?), but I needed to add those to my tool collection anyhow. My husband can handle the labor. After all, he did grow up on a farm, building fences and all. I’ll sit back, drink my iced tea, and watch my plans take shape.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

When Summer Comes

Whenever I’m feeling that my house projects are coming along too slowly, I think to myself, “When summer comes, I'll get that done.” It's completely irrational for me to think that I'll have more time in the summer. Perhaps it is an association from my school days, when summer meant endless hours of free time. If so, it is a powerful association because I haven’t had a summer “off” since 1993. Any vacation time I take this summer (I have 10 days for the year) will be spent traveling, not working on the house. Maybe I assume that my need for sleep will be obviated by summer sunshine. I will want to rise and retire with the sun. I’ll begin my mornings in the garden at 4:30 a.m. and spend my evenings on indoor projects until 11 p.m. Ha! I'll still need my eight hours of sleep. No matter what season it is, I’ll still have to go to work, clean the house, grocery shop, do laundry, and perform all the other little chores that eat up your time. Still, I keep saying to myself, “when summer comes…”