Monday, April 28, 2008

The Cowbird Dance

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
and never stops at all.
~ Emily Dickenson
We have a resident cowbird who perches on the birdfeeder just outside my mom's bay window. He sits here and stares at himself in the glass, sometimes for just a few minutes and at other times he stays for a half an hour. Occasionally, a female approaches, but he pays no attention! Is this narcissistic cowbird simply enamored with his reflection? Is he confused? Or does he see a rival?

He does this dance over and over. He looks this way and that and then begins to fluff up his feathers, thickening his neck and puffing out his chest... trying to make himself look as large and menacing as possible! Then he unfurls his wings, opens his beak and starts flapping his wings as he tilts forward and bows. A high pitched chirp pierces the air.... then the process begins again.

I think he is confused and thinks his rival is wanting to fight.... but they puff and bow and show off and no one ever makes a move on the other.... Isn't he gorgeous?

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Saturday, April 19, 2008

Home Improvement (The New House)

"We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars." ~ Oscar Wilde (Irish Poet, Novelist, Dramatist and Critic, 1854-1900)
Just a short post, mainly for my brother. While he was here the last of February he got the ball rolling on the guttering. It was a necessary and practical improvement as the water gushed down the gables near the foundation and we wanted to make sure it flowed away from the house. Of course the guttering "made out of that metal we shall not name because it is a hot item on the thieves list" was probably not necessary; but it is beautiful. We had many, many gawkers driving by and staring at the shiny, shiny, reddish brown metal. Now it has moderated a bit, darkened somewhat, lost some of the shine and is blending in with the color of the brick. The sponge material keeps the leaves and pine needles out and we no longer have dirt from the flower beds flowing across the front walkway. YEAH!!!!

So, here a a few pictures, after the final touches and after the beginning of the patina. It's lovely and it works!! Oh, yes... it means I can now get my handy dandy ladder out and start on a window washing spree... no more excess dripping and splashing on them now.

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Monday, April 14, 2008

What Came Next! or Welcome to the Stephen King Horror House!

This is my cousin David
"Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family. Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one." ~ Jane Howard
David lives in Illinois, but he came to Dad's birthday party in February with his parents and our other Illinois aunt and uncle. Dad and David had talked about the work we needed to do on the old house to get it ready for sale and David was going to stay for a week after the party to help. He and his brother are VERY handy; they do renovations, build cabinets and furniture and David designs additions and draws the plans as well as the building. I was so thankful that he agreed to help.... I just don't know how to do carpentry.

Yes, it was that dusty!

We started on Monday, February 11th, after taking everyone to the airport. First we picked out some flooring for the entryway and the two bathrooms and the carpet and pad. The carpet people measured and things were in the works. David started on the garage with some repair of the ceiling and some carpentry framing around the pull down attic steps. Here he was sanding the ceiling before putting on the drywall skimming material. His work is amazing!

I started on the house..... first scraping up all the tile in the two bathrooms and then cutting the old carpet about six inches from the walls and pulling that up to get ready for the painters. I took down drapes and blinds and hardware and started spackling all the small holes in the walls. There was this horrible, tacky, eighties wallpaper on one wall of the entryway and we stripped that off. David put the drywall skimming material on the wall with a scrub brush to match the plaster pattern and it was phenomenal.... it really opened up the space. He patched a few cracks in the plaster that had been there for 23 years.... Dad just never got around to fixing them.

Then we started on the painting! We decided to paint everything in the garage the same color... the ceiling, walls, workbench and shelves. We had some white and antique white of varying kinds and we mixed them together. Of course the ceiling is the hardest thing to paint......ouch! I had almost as much paint on my shirt as I did on the ceiling! We ran out but fortunately we matched the swatch at Home Depot with the paint on my shirt and.... voila.... back in business. We painted and painted and painted and painted... for three days! That room was just drinking the paint up!

In the mean time, Dad had the hot tub repair guy come and he replaced the controls with new digital ones. Then it leaked and he replaced the jets.... now it is almost brand new! SO MUCH ON THIS TO DO LIST!!!! It seemed to start growing and growing and by the end of the week it was clear that we were not going to get done.......

So, David re-arranged his travel plans and decided to stay for another week; ten days actually... to get the work done and to see Stephen who was coming back from Europe again. You see, Stephen and David had started talking about an addition to the NEW house; a winter garden, sunroom of sorts with a deck, fire pit patio and landscaping. David took measurements and started the drawings and wanted to talk to Stephen again. ( I told you he was talented!)

We found a reasonable painter and they got started.... everything an antique white with bright white baseboard, window trim and doors. Semi-gloss in the bathrooms and kitchen and flat elsewhere. They even put a special anti-mold and fungus substance in the paint for the bathrooms to prevent any problems. The painters took three days to do the whole house! It started looking much better. While they were working there, David started trimming back the bushes and digging up and moving some shrubs. He and Dad worked on some flower bed drainage options. I started on the house cleaning... no, not inside.... outside.... in 45 degree weather. Yes, I got on my handy dandy super ladder and started washing the siding of the house with a long handled brush and hospital strength bleach and soap.... then pressure washing it off. I also pressure washed the brick.

Then the things started happening.... it seemed that as we finished two things on our list... four more would pop up! When I pressure washed the front... the shutters started to peel... so I spray painted the shutters black... it made the white pop! When the hot tub leaked, it left water stains in the wood decking that enclosed it... so I decided to stain it a dark mahogany color! The sunroom indoor/outdoor carpet had stains... so I washed it with my carpet cleaner.... but they finally required a spraying with full strength Clorox... that did the trick and didn't mottle up the color.... amazing! Then when the painters were finishing up... the Ponderosa wagon wheel lantern hang down light in the dining room and the upside down tulip stained glass and round ball light in the entryway looked worse and worse. So we took them down and let Stephen put up some inexpensive lights that were flush to the ceiling. MUCH BETTER!

Stephen returned... and David was going to leave but we still had sooooo much to do and Stephen was taking care of the guttering issue on the new house. So... he talked David into staying for still another week! (YEAH!!!) The floor guys came and we had to stop and pull the toilets... my first experience at plumbing... actually, they pulled them and we had to put them back. We started putting the drapes back up... and I cut a cord that shouldn't have been cut and the weather stripping stuck and the door wouldn't close and well.... a lot of little tiny things just kept popping up. We kept going... and going....

Then it was finally time for David to leave... Stephen and he left the same day. I dropped them at the airport and went to the old house to start painting the laundry room... I cried a lot that day. Then my cell phone rang! Stephen saw David get off his plane because of some maintenance technical problem... he had to get on his flight... David was trying to get another flight out... a snow storm was rapidly approaching his destination and...... it seemed that the "Stephen King House" did not want to let him go!!!!! He was supposed to leave at 11AM and finally got a flight out at 5PM. His connection was delayed and his ride from the airport to his house was at the beginning of the ice storm. David was here for three weeks and I, for one, is extremely thankful! I would be completely dead, instead of only half dead!

I painted the laundry room, the pantry and the laundry room cabinets after his departure, as well as the outside of the sunroom doors and a few places on the exterior window casings. I put the curtains and drapes back up and vacuumed the fuzzies off the new carpet.... four times! I started the touch up painting on baseboards and walls and finished up the pressure washing outside. The range in the kitchen was giving us trouble. Dad spent a full day changing out the sensor, but it would still cut itself off and blink and did so while cleaning and while baking. When he turned off the breakers to work on the stove he flipped the breaker to the energy saving electric contraption. You know... the one where certain times of day you can dry clothes and other times you can't. When he flipped it back on... there were blinking lights and error messages.. in other words... it fried itself. It cost $800 to fix and $150 to take out. We took it out. Of course, that left a big gaping hole in the already painted laundry room wall. So, Dad spent two days working on a patch and spackling and then I painted it; after I got some more paint to match what the painters had.

We had to get a new range. They no longer make "almond" color but with just a bit of white showing, the ceramic top looks great and works great. Dad got a good deal, but it had a small chip on the edge. No problem. I put several coats of enamel paint on the spot and you can't see it. Of course we had to take a little shelf down to get the stove in and that left another UNPAINTED area on the wall. And of course, I had no antique white Duron semi-gloss paint and the Duron store said they had two shades of antique white. I took the swatches and decided on the color. Dad went by to get it and I told them over the phone that I wanted the semi-gloss and which color but they tried to be helpful by checking with their other store. They said that our painters only got the "eggshell" finish and so they talked Dad into getting it. Unfortunately it did not work... you could see the difference across the room. I took it back, made them give me the paint I told them I wanted and it was perfect!

I started the final cleaning. Washed the windows, scrubbed the sinks and toilets, cleaned all the cabinets in bathrooms, kitchen and laundry, mopped floors and vacuumed carpets again. I didn't pressure wash the siding or ceiling on the front porch as I knew that it would likely blow the paint off... but I bleached it and rinsed carefully and it did well. I also started taking the non-essential things out to the new house.

Finally, the Monday after Easter, I was ready for my last BIG project.... what? You know my penchant for garages! David had mentioned that one of our other cousins had used this epoxy latex paint on his basement floor with fun speckles in it and it looked like linoleum. Of course, I couldn't resist The walls and benches looked so good and the floor had paint and oil and just gunky looking areas. So, I got a kit. It was a bit complicated... it had to have air temps of at least 65 and floor temps of 55 and you had to prepare the floor by cleaning and etching and then there couldn't be any dust and when you mixed the epoxy in you had to wait certain times for certain temps but you had a two hour time limit to get it all done! Whew! Of course we were in the time of year where it can be 75 degrees one day and 40 the next!

It was cold that Monday and not to hit 65 until Wednesday, so I scrubbed and cleaned it with a special de-greaser and rinsed it three times. After it dried, I etched it with a phosphoric acid concrete etcher and scrubbed and rinsed that out. It left a fine white powdery residue. On Tuesday morning I used the kit etcher which was a concentrated acetic aid (vinegar) form and rinsed again. There was still a white powder so before I left for the evening, I rinsed about three times.... left fans running and a small space heater to help with the temperature. I painted on Wednesday everything together, mixed the epoxy and after 30 minutes, edged and started the rolling. That was fun... roll a four foot square area and then take the sprinkles of black, brown, white and tan paint flecks and just .... toss them on the floor. At first I wasn't sure if it would cover the floor with one coat, but it did. Tossing those flakes is a riot... and they stick.... tight! It turned out really well. In fact, it turned out so well that a small place on the wall under the workbench stood out like a sore thumb. I had decided not to paint there as "no one can see it". The paint on the garage floor completely changed the look and it was obvious, so I went back and touched that up. It really is amazing and isn't supposed to bubble up when in contact with the hot car tires!

The house was ready for the second look by the realtor on Friday, March 28th. We had spent 57 days and approximately $10,000 in upgrades to the old house. In the realtor's opinion, the house looked totally different... and great! She recommended an asking price that was $50,000 above the "as is" price she suggested in December! It has been on the market just over two weeks and they have shown it over a dozen times with at least one party showing extreme interest! Three other houses in the same general area have sold in the last three months... all within 45 days of listing. So... we'll see. If you want to see some of the final results you can click on the slide show below... it's my first attempt at one! Just click on the pictures or the arrows. A few will zoom and a few have notes.

This was a long discourse.... this is why my posting has been so rare. I would sit here and try to think of the words and my arms and knees and hands would just say.... "go to bed!" But then... my brain had already "left the building". See.... I haven't been "just lazy"!!!

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Tuesday, April 08, 2008

The Birthday Party: Part 2

"Birthdays are good for you. Statistics show that the people who have the most live the longest." ~ Larry Lorenzoni

Mom had them put these pictures on the cake
and I thought it turned out spectacularly.
The day of the party arrived. We had enough food to feed a small army.... all put into place in the dining room and in the butler's pantry. The wonderful ladies who volunteered to serve were ready, the house was ready, the party sign out front was festive with balloons. The weather was great with sun and moderate temps... not all that uncommon here in February. Then the doorbell rang....

We had guests here... and there....
...and the party began! Friends and family from near and far arrived and I was totally amazed! It was orderly and things flowed well...some wanted to try the food first, while others wanted a tour of the house. Friends from as far as Roanoke and Richmond came and family from Illinois. Nyssa met a great aunt and uncle and a second cousin she had never seen. People renewed friendships from years past and exchanged wonderful memories.

... and everywhere!
Everyone had a great time.. mingled well and best of all... THE PARKING WAS FINE!!!! At least I think it was! I never had a chance to actually look out at the street. Our neighbors didn't complain... but they came to the party too! All in all we counted 75 guests showed up out of the 100 planned for. (We learned later that at least another 15 - 20 people were on their way to the party, but got caught in a bad traffic jam on the interstate.)

And here is the happy birthday boy!!! Posted by Picasa
About half-way through the afternoon, Stephen led everyone in a very, very energetic rendition of "Happy Birthday"! All in all it really DID turn out to be a good party! Most of all, the "birthday boy" seemed to have a great time... and that was the whole point, wasn't it?
"I am thankful for the mess to clean after a party because it means I have been surrounded by friends." ~ Nancie J. Carmody
By the way, it has been a whirlwind eight or so weeks and I do have many stories to tell... still trying to get back in a grove here... looking ahead to stories of manual labor and surprise packages. Yes... I am cryptic!

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