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Growing Concerns

The guy we hired to do the rototilling came to the back door, sweaty and flustered.

“I can’t take your money for this job.”

What?

“I can’t charge you for this. Your soil is terrible — it’s all clay — and you won’t be able to grow a thing.”

He pushed his rototiller up to the street, but before he was able to drive off, I forced him to take my payment.

“You came all the way out here and did the work, so I have to pay you.”

He reluctantly stuffed my check in his shirt pocket. I wasn’t convinced he’d cash it.

Well, what the hell. The yard’s all ripped up now, so I figured I’d better plant something. The internet said “improve your soil,” so I added two yards of composted manure and covered it with a layer of hay for mulch.

So, I planted.

For a garden where nothing would grow, things are popping up like crazy. The tomato plants are heavy with fruit, the chard looks good and I’m up to my ass in cucumbers. My kale is full of little holes from some mysterious pest, but still edible.

Lots of cukes.

I’ll have the rototiller man back next year, but I’ll be sure to go easy on his prediction that my plot was doomed. No matter what, he did the hard work of getting the garden established, and the rest was beginner’s luck. And watering.

Sign of the Times

We’ve been meeting a lot of the neighbors lately, and a few of them stopped to tell me they enjoyed this sign out on my lawn.

trump sign

The sign was a prop from our Christmas card. I had it made online by a company that prints campaign signs, and for some reason, they allow customers to modify the highly recognizable Trump sign. I’d post the Christmas card, but not all of the participants would appreciate that. The inside of the card read, “Finally, a candidate we can all agree on.”

Without context, some people might see the sign as a symbol of solidarity with our new president. Nothing could be further from the truth, but in conversation with the folks on my street, I’ve carefully avoided talk of politics. Good fences aren’t the only thing that make good neighbors.

Exercise in Futility

It’s easier to get things than get rid of things. Case in point, the weight machine in the basement.

I’m moving soon, so it had to go. Fortunately, someone bought the thing off Craigslist for $50 — but now to move it out of the fu*king cellar.

It was instantly obvious that there was no way it originally arrived downstairs in one piece, and we had to tip it sideways to avoid low hanging duct work and pipes. But the highlight of this endeavor? That was when we got stuck on the stairs. Should we go back down? No, hand me the ratchet set so I can remove this part. And that one — all while  balancing it on the steps. Did I mention I was on the bottom? Good times.

Maybe I should have offered it to the people buying our house; indeed, I think I might have paid them to keep it.

Once it was in the garage, it hit me. “That’s the best workout I’ve had with this thing in years.”

Gather Round the Hearth

We’ve been looking at a lot of houses lately and noticed something interesting: people like putting flat screen TV sets over the fireplace.

Not to be judgmental or anything — because I would never do that — but one thing goes through my head when I see this in a house: douchebag bad idea.

There are a couple of practical reasons not to mount the TV over the fireplace. The heat might not great for the TV, and ideally, a TV should be level with your eyes position so you don’t have to look up at it. That could be bad for your neck.

But there are less tangible reasons, too.

It used to be that the space over the fireplace was reserved for something special, like a piece of art or an antique that sits on the mantle. Let’s say you have a mounted moose head that you love. Where’s it going to go? Over the fireplace, of course. It sends a message about what you find important.

When you put the TV over the fireplace, it says that the most important thing in your life is the TV. And it makes your house look like a barroom.

So don’t be a douchebag silly: find somewhere else for the TV. I know the fireplace thing is popular right now, but just because it’s popular doesn’t make it right.

Sink Sank Sunk

faucettMy toolbox is like the “cap and ball Colt” revolver Steve Earle sings about in Devil’s Right Hand: It can get you into trouble but it can’t get you out.

But friends, never let lack of skill get in the way of doing things. Where would ‘Merica be with that attitude — especially when it comes to projects around the house?

Our most recent home improvement adventure was getting new counter tops installed over our old cabinets, which is not as good as doing the whole kitchen over, but better than nothing. Now the cabinets look like their supposed to be old and quaint, instead of just crappy. My role in the job?

  1. Rip out counter top and sink.
  2. Re-install sink and temporary counter top (plywood) after counter people measure.
  3. Remove sink and temporary counter top before counter installation.
  4. Hook up plumbing under the sink.

Now that sounds reasonably easy– except getting through the cabinet opening under the sink is a chore. There is absolutely no way to work under there in any sort of comfort. First you squeeze in sideways because it’s so narrow, an then rest your weight on the cabinet opening.

My question? How do plumbers do this sh*t?

All I can figure is that the best plumbers are wiry little guys who can wriggle into tight spots, rather than normal sized fellows — like the counter installer who mounted the sink. He slid in and out of that cabinet like a weasel going after whatever weasels go after.

Maybe I should have tried paying him to hook up the water and drain, but I will say this: I was extra careful to do the job right so I’d never have to squeeze in under there again.

Water, Water Everywhere

MiaEverybody’s concerned about Hurricane Sandy and you can’t go five seconds without being reminded on how to prepare — but one thing in particular has stuck in my craw: stocking up on water.

It’s true that having water on hand is a good idea, but it largely depends on where your water comes from. If you rely on a well that uses electricity then you could have a problem if the juice goes out. But many people with a municipal water supply — like in the town where I live — are unlikely to have any trouble.

Without getting into the nitty gritty, my water does not move around by electricity, but by the pressure created by a water tower. As long as they keep the tower filled we’ll have water pressure. They don’t need to pump it all over, just up the tower — and there are generators in case of power failure.

Unless we have a gravity failure, we’ll probably have water.

Are there things that can go wrong? Of course — but losing water is very unlikely. Just try explaining this at home. My wife kept asking over the weekend if we should buy water and I kept saying no — until I finally gave in and went to Price Chopper at 5:30 this morning.

In the parking lot I met a man with a cart full of water. Did you leave a few bottles for me?

“Yeah, there’s a little left. You know, I’m only here because my wife is driving me nuts about having bottled water in the house. She doesn’t understand where our water comes from!”

I relieved him of his shopping cart — most of the carts in the corral were tied up so they wouldn’t scoot off in the wind — and hit the water aisle.

I went up to the night cashier, a Russian man who’s always the cashier when I go in there at odd hours. He looked into my cart.  “You have a lot of water.” He pronounced it “vawter.”

“Yes. My wife. We won’t need it, but this will make her happy. And I won’t have to listen to her go on about the water.”

He thought about that for a second. “Then that is a small price you are paying.”

Agreed.

The Lost Art of Raking

Gas powered leaf blowers are all the rage in my neighborhood. It’s easy to understand why people like them. Nobody thinks raking is fun, but there’s more to it than that; creating your own wind is almost godlike, even if it’s only a narrow gust that just hits your own lawn and driveway.

And what do you suppose the leaves make of these contraptions? I think they prefer being spirited away on the breeze instead of suffering a merciless manhandling at the end of a rake. That being the case, to the leaf blowing public I say exactly what a leaf might say: “Blow me.”

No, I’m not a big fan of the leaf blowers. One reason is that they are so godawful noisy. There is something about the high pitched whine of these things that’s really irksome, nothing like the low and throaty rumble of a lawnmower. And the lawn is cut just once a week; I have neighbors who get out the leaf blower every day — even twice a day, sometimes.

When did we become people who covet our lawns, treating them like an extension of the living room carpet. It’s October. A couple of leaves on your lawn is no big deal. Get over it.

Me? I have a date with my rake this weekend. It’s tedious, but there’s a simple pleasure in moving the leaves from one place to the other. It’s enjoyable, especially if you listen to a football game or music while working — and you can always turn up the volume in your headphones to drown out the leaf blowers.

Habitat for Chipmunkity

Remember that stone wall? Well, the chipmunks have moved in, turning my rustic landscaping project into a condo for yard rodents. It seems that I inadvertently created a system of caves that suit the little buggers perfectly, and now whenever I approach to water the flowers or pull weeds they dart out from between the cracks and dive into some other hidey hole in the yard.

Yes, chipmunks are delightful — until they get into your garage and start sharpening their teeth on things like doorframes, sheetrock, plastic hose spools… then they are a menace. It already appears that this year we have a bumper crop of chipmunks; providing them with a friendly environment could lead to an explosive problem.

What to do? First I’ll try repellents that make the wall smell — I think the stuff is made from fox urine or something — but if that doesn’t work, it may be time to take drastic measures. Perhaps we have to make an example of one to discourage the others. I loathe to hurt a small animal, but they’ve overstepped their bounds.

One other question: whose job is it to collect all that fox urine?

Everybody Must Get Stone

It seemed like a good idea at the time: rip out the rotting landscape timbers and replace them with stone.

And why not? Driving through Ireland confirmed that my mother’s people were genetically predisposed to stacking rocks in a straight line — and the Italian side? Fuggetaboutit! Everybody knows they’re handy with rocks, so this was not just building a wall, but in my blood.

I ordered two pallets like the one in this picture — which didn’t seem like a big deal until I saw them sitting on my lawn. Then they seemed like a very big deal.

There’s something scary about undertaking such a public project. The work site sits right on the corner in full view of the nosy neighbors and passerby who scrutinize each other’s property. These are the same people who sneer at the sorry state of my grass. Maybe doing something this would overshadow the turf problems, “Yes, you can grow grass — but I can build a wall out of rocks, MF!”

The biggest worry? That I would have more rock than I know what to do with. As it turned out, near the end of day two it looked like I might run out of stone — and indeed when it was finally done, there were less than ten rocks remaining, ones that were so large and poorly shaped there was no use for them in the wall. One of them was so big I couldn’t lift it alone.

If you’d like to take them off my hands, it’s $25 for all you can carry.