Signs From Beyond

Friday, October 1, 2010

Sometimes I really wonder if I'm getting messages from beyond but am too obstinate to accept them.  The hubby keeps telling me we have ghosts, but I keep coming up with ways to debunk him.  On this occasion, I really have no way to debunk him. 

The guest room recently became a literal hot bed of activity. 

If you notice in my previous posts, after three years of stalling, I was finally able to finish remodeling that godforsaken room.  Though it was intended for my stepdaughter to use on her visits, she prefers to sleep in front of the TV on the couch, so it was relatively unused.

In August, we had unexpected company.  My stepson and his girlfriend came to stay with an open-ended departure date.  Two weeks into their visit, a foul stench started emanating from the guest room.  The only way to describe it:  cooking rotted-fish smell.  Initially, we accused the young folk of significant hygienic indiscretions.  What could possibly cause such a smell other than dirty laundry and harboring nests of rats that may have expired.  They tried to placate the hubby by sorting through all of their clothes, proving that they and their belongings were not the source.

I refused to go into the room beyond the doorway.  The smell was knocking me out.  My stepson went into the attic to see if something died in one of the rat traps.  It was August, after all, and a hot dead carcass would definitely be rank up there.  Nothing.  The crawlspace was clear as well. 

By 10:30PM, I was thoroughly frustrated and focused on putting the little guy to bed.  From his room next to the guest room, I could hear darling hubby performing a seance, coaxing the angry spirit to reveal itself.  The chanting was the last straw for me.  I stormed into the room and told them all to go to bed.  We would find the cause of the smell in the morning when we had the light of day to hunt through the attic.  For all we knew it could be a dead rat in the wall.  No one listened to me, but they coaxed me to come into the room all the way to get a good whiff.  The smell was apparently migrating throughout the room.  The girlfriend thought something had either touched or burned her leg.  I decided the three of them were getting hysterical.

I sent the hubby to try and put the kid to bed since he was starting to get panicky.  I moved close to the bed where they were claiming the smell was shifting and took a big inhale.  What was that smell underneath the rotting fish?  Was that hot metal?

I pointed at my stepson and said, calmly, "Help me move the bed away from the wall."
"Reach back there and check the plug."
"Ouch!" He said.  "It's hot!"
He pulled the plug out of the socket behind the headboard.  It was blackened and smoldering.
"Is the wall hot too?"
"Yeah, it is."
"Crap, I'm gonna have to call the fire department." 

After that, the real comedy of the evening ensued.  I wish I could get a copy of the 911 call.  The fire engine from the station down the street arrived quickly with all the lights going.  They were kind enough to not run the sirens.  Should I mention here that this is the second time I've had to make a call like this to the fire department?  The first time was about a month after we moved in and we kept smelling smoke in the hallway.  It turned out to be a short in one of the hallway recessed lights.  It only took me five years, but I finally replaced all those lights.  See the earlier post documenting THAT journey.

Anyway, the firemen (all very cute and tall I should mention) pointed their heat detector at the wall and determined some cutting was necessary.  I tried to find my trusty drywall knife, but I was a little panicked, and by the time I had found it, they had already used one of my utility knives to hack an opening around the guilty outlet.  Thankfully, the fire hadn't spread to the surrounding beams.  If we had waited until the morning, it could have been a different story.  They cut off the power to the bedrooms and told me to call an electrician to check it out.

The following day, the electrician confirmed it was a loose wire in the socket.  He went around to all my sockets and told me I should probably swap out most of them.  Really?  Another project?  Could I be so lucky?  It has been more than a month, but I haven't had time to work on this newest project yet.  I've been focused on repairing a burst pipe and knitting a sweater.  Those will have to be covered in another post.

So where does the message from beyond come in to this story?  No, I didn't waste your time with this long boring post just to mock my hubby for talking to the air in a room about to catch on fire.  This is where my skin crawls a little when I think about it.  The lamp that was plugged into the outlet used to belong to my now deceased friend, Tosha.  The picture on the wall over the outlet?  The painting I had done of her that used to hang in her bedroom until she passed.  Aside from me, hubby and the kids, Tosha is the only person that has ever come and stayed in the guest room.  She never got to see it remodeled.  For some reason, I really believe that she was trying to tell me something.  Or maybe she was trying to help me get up the courage to ask the guests to leave even though it was totally not their fault.  The fire ended up being a catalyst.

The wall has since been patched, spackled and repainted.  Since the departure of the guests, the little guy has taken to coming into our bed at night.  In order to avoid continuous sleep deprivation and constant neck pain, I leave for the guest room the minute he arrives to crawl over me.  I have to admit, it's nice to have my guest room back.  Thanks, Tosha, for seeing into my future and knowing that I would need my spare bedroom back.  And thanks for not burning down the whole house while trying to get my attention.   

Finished Business

My greatest skill is starting new projects and not finishing them.  I think I've managed to bring this skill to somewhat of an art form.  The house is always in a state of partial upheaval.  Sometimes, I think the universe is plotting against me, and other times, I acknowledge I'm just biting off more than I can chew.  I have bought into the DIY philosophy on more than one occasion with lackluster results as my skill set falls short of expectations.

A fine example of disappointing results would be the guest room.  It took three years, but I finally finished it - well, almost.  I still want to replace the closet doors with mirrored ones, but the funds aren't available anytime soon.  The color choice is outside my usual palette, but I actually like it.  I put quite a bit of thought into the curtains and the ribbon tie offs.  I spent almost a whole week trying to find bedding that would go well.  The room is still a catch-all for my arts & crafts, as well as my closet and jewelry room.  The one thing that is truly disappointing is the ceiling.  There are some spots where the drywall needs smoothing, patching or repair, and I opted to try and texture over the imperfections.  If anything, I think the texture just highlights the imperfections that much more.  They are the figurative giant zits on an otherwise pretty face.

The hallway project, which came to a grinding halt when the front doors fell apart, was finally picked up and completed.  We had some mis-steps with the color at first.  Our perception of blue in the store manifested itself in a very unsettling Pepto version on the wall.  I finally clued in and bought sample jars.  The color we finally settled on was something in the Ocean Spray naming category.  A little gray, a little dark, a little blue.  Very nice. 

I scoured Sacramento stores for picture rail.  I had my heart set on being able to hang paintings on decorative ribbon, chains, etc. along the hallway walls.  I wanted to be able to move things around as the mood struck me.  Now that the picture rail is up, it would be foolhardy to risk hanging anything heavy on the picture rail.  I should probably redo it, but I doubt I could do any better a job the second time around.  Besides, that much picture rail isn't cheap.

In addition to the big projects, I decided it was high time to fix that leaky toilet.  Five years of listening to it hiss at random in the middle of the night, sleeping in the guest room was never totally peaceful.  I bought one of those nifty kits and gutted the whole thing.

I gave myself a big pat on the back for this one.  It was a fast and easy project.  About a week later, I was emptying the trash and discovered some moisture on the floor.  Woops!  Apparently, I didn't tighten the two main bolts and I had some leakage.  I've decided to ignore the fact that all of the grout around the back of the toilet is now cracked.  That wasn't me, I didn't do it.  In less than a month, the plastic handle snapped right off.  I took MLH to Ace, and we picked out a new handle with metal parts.  Much more effective.  Live and learn.

Gateway to Hell

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Talk about falling off the face of the blogging earth.  Life has not stopped in the last five months.  I started drafting an entry in March, and got a whole three sentences into it.  I've lost the spirit of the original post I started, but I should probably fill in the gap.This will no doubt be a ridiculously long post.

I'm now sure that I have evidence of the universe conspiring against me.  Wasn't I just embarking on a nice little project in the hallway?  I had gotten so far with the ceiling, nothing could stop me now, right?

Yeah, right....

I will now account the troubled relationship with, and the rise of, my arch nemesis, the front door.  First off, the front entry consisted of two paneled solid wood doors.

The interior side was stained while the exterior was painted a lovely shade of brown like the rest of the trim.

When we first moved in, I thought it would be really smart to weatherproof the doors, so I set about replacing the door shoes and gluing foam around the perimeter.  Well, when I took off the dummy door shoe, the entire bottom three inches came with it.  The culprit was some significant wood rot.  Like a guilty child that has just snapped off the statue's finger, I hurriedly glued it back together and put on a new shoe.  The new shoes didn't do a great job of keeping out the drafts, and I was forced to sew rice socks.  I used a spiffy tribal batik for the cover.  I later upgraded to draft guards.
The next irritation came when I tried to get the dummy door open.  The top latch wouldn't budge.  Stuck latch?  Grab some WD-40!  Result?  The latch became so loose that it wouldn't stay up.  For the last three years, I've been jamming tape, etc. into the opening to try and keep the latch in place.  Not much luck in that endeavor. 
Yet another sign of the imminent demise of the doors was when I discovered I could actually see daylight through one of the panels.  I attempted to cover the crack with wood putty, but it just dried and split right over the original crack.  The dummy door was now being held together, officially, with glue, putty, and tape.

After a while, we started having problems with the live door.  The key kept sticking in the lock.  One day, I was unlocking the door and the whole lock mechanism came out with the key.  Springs and little metal pellets spewed everywhere.  Good thing I'm really familiar with my local ACE Hardware Store. 
After that little episode., the handleset started sticking.  To get in, we would have to body slam the door.  After a year of putting everything down to manhandle the door, I finally googled how to fix the handle.  It took five seconds to clean out the mechanism with my good ol' standby, WD-40.  I did, however, order a new handleset as a backup.  Talk about foreshadowing.  The final straw came when the hubby slammed the door a little too hard.  Here's how I know the universe is plotting - it was two weeks after I started on the hallway.  All of that body slamming had apparently weakened the dummy door.  An entire chunk came off the interior.  
Now the entire structure of the dummy door was compromised.  The mechanism holding the bottom latch of the door had nothing to hold on to.  Anyone couldwalk up and kick in the doors.  My solution?  A glob of molding compound and brown duct tape.
Keeping a door held together with duct tape is kind of the last straw. 

I had no intention of replacing the door for at least five years.  I can only deduce that this is all part of some plot by the universe to test my patience, keep me from finishing my other projects, and continue the cycle of house poverty.  Next step is to resign to the obvious and buy new doors.
The upside was that I could finally buy some energy efficient doors and get rid of the draft.  Fiberglass, here we go!  I went with some doors that didn't come prestained/painted, so yes, more work for me.  Three weeks after ordering the doors, they were in!  Anyone see anything missing?  Yes, that's right, the dummy door didn't get ordered with the holes for the handleset precut.  Apparently, the Kwikset rep mis-represented to the Lowe's door guy how the dummy set gets installed.  I had to wait yet another month for someone to come out and drill a hole and install that hardware.  On the upside, it gave me ample time to stain and paint without any obstructions.

 I'm so burnt out writing about these ridiculous front doors.  Staining took a whole weekend.  We ended up missing the crab feed - I have never been to one and bought tickets for the school's fundraiser.  It took another two weeks to primer and fully paint the inside of the doors.  I'm very proud of the end results.  So, in the end, the curse turned into a bit of a blessing.

Lack of Stamina

Monday, February 22, 2010

The bug up my butt seems to have fallen asleep. I was on quite the tear of activity the previous few weekends, but all of a sudden, all of my projects have come to a grinding halt. The evidence is sitting by the front door - a crate of tools and accessories. Did I really need electrical tape in every color? The molding, which I painted last weekend, spent the whole week lounging on the back patio. For reasons unknown to me, the dear hubby stashed the light fixture trims in the hall closet. I would have never found them if I wasn't looking for the children's Mucinex. The hall ceiling has not been sanded and respackled as I had hoped.

As it happens, I have a valid excuse. Everyone in my house has been sick. I caught a cold from my son. The petri dish came back from a visit with the grand parents with yet another cold which turned into a nasty cough, and, as I discovered in my lovely visit to urgent care on Saturday afternoon, a full blown ear infection. My mother managed to catch the little guy's cold, which has turned into bronchitis for her. My husband has also been taken down and will probably be diagnosed with his own case of bronchitis today. No one with bronchitis wants to breathe in spackle dust. Not to mention, I ran out of clothes to get dirty in.

Even though my motherly and spousal duties required that I be somewhat present and participating this weekend, I did manage to squeeze in a few projects to keep things moving.

Since my sixteen year old stepdaughter was visiting for the weekend, I decided to enlist her in a quick project. She has turned into quite the surly teen, and spends her visits either sleeping or texting morosely from the couch. Every now and then, we see a glimmer of the girl we used to know and love when she plays with her little brother. That little boy LOVES his big sister. She perked up when I asked for her help, and I didn't have to ask twice. The five year old was adamant about being Mommy's Little Helper (MLH) too.

I had brought the molding into the house on Thursday. By Saturday, I felt that it had acclimated back to an indoor environment, so I dragged it back out to the garage to cut. Since the molding is of the smaller, more casual variety, I decided to go with a full blown compound miter cut and skipped the coping method. Of course, it has been so long since I used the saw that I spent thirty minutes re-teaching myself. The teen helped me measure, and I cut everything down to size and dragged it all back in. By the third trip back to the saw, I was able to get everything to fit. I rolled in the ginormous air compressor and loaded up the finish nailer. I had the teen be the dead man holding up part of the molding – I even made her a propping stick with a towel on the end so she wouldn’t scratch anything, and MLH got to hold it when she wasn’t. His big role was closing the door behind me when I ran back out to the garage to re-cut. I promised MLH that when he was grown up, he could play with Mommy’s tools. Did I mention where the hubby was? Oh yeah…cooking dinner. I announced that the women had successfully put up the molding, and he asked when he could have his testicles back. I promised him that MLH would be able to cook AND use power tools, and therefore, be the redeemer of a blended gender role family.

Sunday, I mustered some more energy, sunk the nails and filled the holes and joints. Sadly, I discovered that I did not have any white calk or glazing compound. I don’t know how that’s possible since I have just about every other substance. Oh well, back to the local hardware store tonight and then painting time. All that will be left is hanging the curtain rod and tying back the drapes. Next time, I will let the teen know that she is responsible for making the bed. Rule of parenting a teen: If you want them to do something, you have to spell it out for them. The idea never comes to them on its own.

In addition to the molding, I was able to do five loads of laundry, sort my sock drawers, sign up the kid for drum lessons, pay the bills, and reformat my PC and reinstall software. Somewhere in the next three days, on top of the normal work schedule, I have to watch a 13 hour video (Exam Cram) as part of my studying for Friday’s real estate license exam. I have put it off long enough. Cross your fingers that I remember all this useless information.  If it goes well, I will be making cheesecake.

Breathing paint fumes

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

I have been on a bit of a tear the last few weeks.  To understand my level of accomplishment, the back story is totally necessary.  
I decided, back in November and about two weeks after putting poor little Fred to sleep, that it was a perfect opportunity to replace all the interior doors.  I swear the kitty door into the laundry room is haunted.  It's constantly setting off the hubby's ghost meter.  I keep hearing the departed cat scratching away when I'm home alone.
All the doors are original to the house.  They are that horrible dark plywood from the 1970's.  Every door has a collection of scratches and holes from the previous owner, her daughters, and their pets.  I have covered some of the holes with contact paper in an almost perfectly matching wood veneer.  Every door has a different door knob.  The laundry room door handle keeps falling off, and I couldn't pry it off to replace it. 
I had a very nice handy man come out and measure, and he delivered the doors the first week of December.  I ordered all matching door knobs and hinges on Ebay and saved myself a ton of money.  I decided to save some additional money and paint the doors myself.  I bought all of the necessary accessories (paint, drop cloth, and L-bar) and was poised to begin painting in earnest.  I have an industrial sized air compressor and an HVLP gun which I bought to paint the kitchen doors four years ago.  I have been waiting for an opportunity to use my gun again.
Needless to say, it is now Valentine's Day, and the doors are sitting, as yet untouched, in the garage.  The delay?  All those other projects on the list.

Project Number 1:  Finish the guest room.  The poor guest room.  I had managed to scrape the popcorn off the ceiling and paint three of the walls a buttercream yellow, but that was almost two years ago.  Two weeks ago, I haphazardly patched the ceiling, busted out the compressor and texture hopper (yeah, I bought one of those too), and refinished the ceiling.  I should have spent more time patching.  There is nothing worse than being able to see every imperfection.  I moved all the furniture and painted that fourth wall an interesting golden brown.  It's called Bread Basket.  I finally dug out the bedframe, reupholstered the headboard with an espresso pleather, and bought new bedding.  All that is left is putting up the molding, touching up the ceiling, and hanging the curtain rod.  I already hung up some art, and I'm going to wait on ordering the bifold mirrored doors.  They're expensive and not a priority.  I painted the molding, and will probably put it up tomorrow.  I think I'm going to try using a coping method instead of my compound miter saw, but I'm not committed to it just yet.
Project Number 2:  The hallway.  We've had big plans for the hallway.  It is to be a gallery of our family unity and splendor.  I was always jealous of my friends whose parents covered the walls with monuments to missing teeth, soccer league championships, and graduations.  My parents are minimalists.  Even today, the only pictures up are one of my son, one of my brother, his wedding photo, me alone, and my wedding photo.  The good stuff is taped to the computer monitors in their office where guests don't go.  Anyway, the hallway is where the majority of the new doors will be.  Wouldn't it be nice if the doors are framed by nicely painted walls and well placed photos?  Two weeks ago, I scraped the popcorn off the ceiling.  Last weekend, I tackled the lights.
We have been blessed with square recessed lights circa 1972.  Our first month in the house, I had to call the fire department at 1AM because we kept smelling smoke.  It turned out to be one of the hall lights overheating due to loose wires.  Not only are they fire hazards, but they also have big gaping openings that vent all the heat from the house right into the attic.  Not very energy efficient.  My handyman told me that replacing them was a project I could handle on my own.  I decided to see if I could pull it off.  What it took?  The purchase of: three recessed cans, trim, wire nuts, wire clamps,  lightbulbs (picking out the right bulbs took 30 minutes because I had to talk up the Home Depot guy), a small drywall board, drywall saw, drywall screws, drywall tape, joint compound, and then I had to run out and buy heavy duty wire cutters.  I also had some scrap wood strips.
The first step was to shut off the power and finally climb into the attic.  I had vowed that I would avoid the attic at all costs, but it was time to be de-virginized.  My aversion to the attic stems from the previous year's battle with an infestation of Norwegian rats.  Black Plague, anyone?  I wasn't going to take any chances that the pesky rodents may have been napping in the insulation, so I donned a ski mask, safety goggles, dust mask, and gloves.  I only wish I had invested in that pink tool belt.  Lugging a lamp, flashlight, pliers, hammer, screwdriver, cell phone and other oddities was rather precarious as I tried to balance along the 2x4 beams.  Why did I have to go into the attic?  To detach the existing lights.  Duh!  The dang things weren't nailed in, they were stapled in with inch long industrial staples.  It took me over an hour to pry them loose.  Then it was just a matter clipping the wires off of the old fixtures.
Next step, cutting the drywall to patch the squares.  Tedious process to get them to fit even with drawing templates first.  Cutting the circles was the easiest part.  Then there was the securing of the patches with scrap wood.  Each hole took an hour to cut, fit, secure and patch.  The tape and compound was probably the most fun, but it's a multi-phased process, and I'm still working on smoothing everything out.
Final step, connecting the replacement lights.  Unfortunately, the existing wires didn't provide enough slack to reconnect the new lights from below, so back to the attic I went.  Another hour passed of squatting on 2x4s, sweating in my ski mask, and desperately trying to strip and twist the copper wires.  I think I neglected to mention that the lights are connected on a three way switch which allows you to turn the lights on and off at either end of the hall.  Twisting that many copper wires together was a challenge.  I actually ran out of time, and had to run to pick up my son from daycare.  I ran into his daycare two minutes before they closed covered in cobwebs and sweating.  The next morning, I was back up in the attic.  I re-twisted and taped up the bulkier lines to make sure everything was well connected.  Back down in the hall, I screwed in a light bulb and flipped the switch.  Nothing happened.  My parents were a little concerned that I might cause an electrical fire, so I promised that I would call my handyman.  I was positive I had done everything correctly, so I couldn't understand why the lights still weren't on.  A few days later, the handyman climbed into my attic with his meter.  At the first light, he called down for me to flip the switch and turn on the lights.  I could hear his meter start beeping away.  Okay, that means I connected everything correctly.  So why no lights?  From above, Mr.Handy asked, "Did you check your bulbs?"  Really?  I ran to test the bulbs.  They worked just fine in the kitchen fixture.  I ran back to the hallway, climbed my step stool and touched my finger to the bulb I had put in previously.  It blinked to life.  Yeah, that's right, I didn't screw it in all the way.  Mr. Handy climbed out of my attic, I paid him for his troubles, and I stared at my lovely new recessed lights glowing brightly in the hallway.
I've been sick since Mr. Handy's visit, but I did manage to apply a fresh coating of joint compound after sanding everything down.  Mr. Handy warned me that if I can't get it perfectly smooth, I should seriously consider apply a texture to the ceiling.  After my unsatisfactory results of the guest room ceiling, I will definitely be taking his advice.  More construction details to come.

Coveting my Foreman

Sunday, January 24, 2010

I’m not much of a cook. In truth, I think I cook about as well as I knit. As long as I have clear instructions to follow, I can typically generate the dish attempted. My plating skills leave much to be desired, but that’s an art form unto itself.
My cooking is somewhat limited by the palate of my household. Hubby has several requirements: no onions, minimal garlic, no fish (unless we’re talking Gordon’s fish sticks), no sour cream, and a host of other random limitations regarding texture, complexity, and ingredients. I should mention that bell peppers and eggplant are on the barred list. My limitations are compounded by a child that has taken to eating the same lunch every day (cheese on sourdough with mayo) and has decreased his veggie intake to nearly zero portions. A sane person can only eat so much pasta with red sauce or white sauce.  I love macaroni & cheese as much as the next soul, but enough is enough.

It's a poor craftsman that blames his tools, but sometimes I wonder if my lack of cooking ability is in any way connected to what I actually have to work with.  We have new appliances (purchased when we moved into the house 4 years ago), but the stove is electric.  I'm definitely a bigger fan of gas stoves, though having a smooth glass top burner is much easier to clean.  The real bane of my existence is the oven.  Every time I make a lasagna or a chicken pot pie, the juices overflow and create havoc.  This happens so often that I now have a routine.  I prep my kitchen with some strategically placed fans, and when the smoke begins to billow, I close off the kitchen from the rest of the house, open up the slider and the windows, and set the fans to HI.

Early on, I tried to block the drips.  I laid a sheet of foil on the bottom of the oven as a barrier.  To my chagrin, the foil melted to the bottom of the oven.  Who knew self cleaning ovens were so much trouble?  On another occasion, I wrapped the bottom of my pie dish with foil, hoping it would catch the overflow.  Result:  The bottom of my chicken pot pie crust didn't cook.  Gross. 

The only appliance that has never failed me is my trusty Foreman Grill.  I stole my parents' grill years ago when my father abandoned it for a sandwich maker.  The grill is a tiny little thing and can barely handle two chicken breasts.  The non-stick coating had long since worn off,  and I needed more capacity.  Also, it wouldn't hurt if the gadget did more than grill.  What about a waffle maker, or even a griddler? 
So, this Xmas, I started researching all-in-one presses.  I was dazzled by the Cuisinart Griddler - Costco was carrying one for the holidays and there was even a coupon.  I had read that the model Costco offered tended to get scorching hot on top, so I looked into the next up model.  The price difference was around $50, but I figured the holiday discounts would be in my favor.  Alas, I was wrong and missed my window.  In any case, my hubby mentioned that he had seen some bad reviews on both models, so I started looking at other brands. 

The obvious occurred to me.  If I'm replacing my Foreman Grill, why not replace it with another Foreman Grill?  I zeroed in on the GRP90WGR Next Grilleration with 5 Removable Plates.  Sadly, it only comes in red.
I kicked the idea around for over a week, finally made the ultimate commitment on Amazon and hit the Place Order button.

My first major meal consisted of 4 steaks and zucchini and asparagus spears.  We ate the leftovers for three days.  It came out better than my BBQ, faster, and easier cleanup.  Pork chops only take 10 minutes.  This weekend, I made waffles.  I think this week I'll get some pizza dough at Trader Joe's and test out the deep dish pizza recipe.  

I'm definitely in love with my new Foreman.  Of all the things I've thrown my money away on, the Foreman Grill is already proving to be a worthy investment.  I'm hoping this is not just a first flush of appliance lust but the beginning of a long lasting relationship.

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