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Garden Retreat

2019 rhododendronfront porchIt’s raining (again). The news headlines are abysmal (again). I need to do laundry (again). When life gets annoying, the annoyed retreat to their gardens. *grin* Or at least that is where I go. My garden is my happy place. One of my two happy places, the other being the shore (what you might call the beach, but where I live we go down the shore). Since I can’t go out and dig in the dirt directly today, I’ll retreat to my photos.

I’m trying 3 new things this year in the battle against the deer and groundhogs. First, I bought 3 cloches to put over my containers. I have many more pots than cloches but I’m using them on the lettuce (which has already been attacked once by deer before I had the cloche) and the hibiscus. I believe the hibiscus will get too big fairly soon for the cloche, but while I can still tuck it in, I’m using a cloche there.

cloche closeupMy other 2 new defenses are marigolds and mint. I’ve always used hot pepper on my plants to deter animals. They don’t like the burning and we don’t mind. 🙂 I don’t want to use chemicals on our herbs and lettuce. I do wash the plants before using but I’d prefer to avoid the poisons. This year I bought an entire flat of marigolds and have placed them in every pot with herbs and lettuce. We’ll see if they help. I’m told deer hate the smell. I don’t think they’ll stop the groundhogs, however. I’ve also bought a lot of mint and I’m adding that to the flowers. I’m toying with the idea of taking my long rectangular planters and filling them with mint and placing them in a row next to the planters. Again the popular reasoning is that deer don’t like the smell of mint. We’ll see. 🙂

IrisesI couldn’t remember when the irises bloom. While I was doing some cleanup and planting a few weeks ago I began to fear that I’d either missed them or I had none this year. I’m delighted to see that both fears were misplaced and my irises are back. As is the peony. I really thought I planted an orange peony way back when. I don’t know if that is wishful memory or if I really did and it was a hybrid that has naturalized back to yellow (see below). It’s beautiful no matter what. guaraThat corner still needs a little more work. I’ll be planting either cosmos or zinnia seeds (or both) there this weekend.

I plant guara (the little pink flowers in front of the evergreen bushes) every year. They are supposed to be perennials. They almost never come back for me. I am also completely inept at growing echinacea. Everyone tells me that coneflowers are soooooo easy to grow. Yet either they die on me or I’ve been ‘weeding’ them out by mistake. I had THREE plants going last year and I can only find the remains of one this year.

front walk 2I use a lot of container pots because the sun is in the front of my house. So are the deer. 🙂 I only have so much yard and the pots give me a lot of flexibility. The ones closest to the house are filled with herbs and lettuce, with the flowers further out for public viewing. I got smart and broke apart one of my huge succulent plantings. Although I loved the pot, it is WAY too heavy to bring into the house during winter. I took the succulents that were still alive and moved them to smaller pots, plus I bought some new plants for a third pot. The big red heavy planter now has flowers.

The pots with the green shoots have canna lilies. One pot did fine but the other one only scored 1 out of 3. I’ll need to find something for that. You can see that I’ve allowed many of the herbs to go to flower. I think that is a “no-no” but I don’t really care. In most respects I am very relaxed about my garden – it works or it doesn’t work. If it doesn’t work, I toss it and try something else. false starwortIn the plot between the sidewalk and the street I had 4 False Starwort plants. Only 2 came up. So I dug up what was left of the other 2 and planted a mandevilla. 🙂 I have high hopes for both the lupine (perennial) and the gazania (annual).

The rhododendron thrills me every year (top picture). I need to find someone who could get up on a ladder and trim the top a bit. I’m delighted with how the plant blocks my living room windows (but lets in air and light) but I don’t think I need it growing up to the 2nd floor. 🙂 I also need to cut it back from a width perspective. But oh my, isn’t it gorgeous? We planted that the first year we were in the house. My sister and I put it in, along with 2 white azaleas. The azaleas are still there, but they struggle for space against the rhododendron.

clematis and aliumWe also planted a clematis to wind up the porch support that very first year as well (my sister was my guide and teacher when I first moved in to the house). Over the many years that original clematis migrated to the side of the porch (after the sewer line was dug up and all the plants had to be moved and replanted). I’ve added a few more plants of different varieties to try to regain what used to be a stupendous abundance of purple flowers shading the entire corner of the porch. Slowly but surely we are getting there.

The rain has stopped. Maybe we’ll even get sun!
plants in pots
succulents and tarragon
peony

Cat Studies

cats enjoying the fireplace

Whiling away a raw rainy 1st day of Spring

a bath before sleeping

A bath before napping

Black cat with pillows

I like my pillows

let sleeping cats lie

Even asleep I am the cutest cat in the world, says WC. Note my pink ears and pink paw pads.

Who’s Been Using My Browser?

Because I can tell you this for SURE, Google, this headline/article is NOT of interest to me!!!!!!!

NOT my headline

I posted too soon, because scrolling down the list of articles Google News is offering me, I found this one, in Science, which actually DOES interest me.

Much more interesting

We are obviously not meant to be, Google News. I’ll have to see what The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post have to offer. 🙂

Three Steps Forward, Two Steps Back

Update: Still leaking. 😦 Even worse – leak wouldn’t happen when the plumbers came back to see/fix. This morning after I pushed the heat up I came down to find a puddle under the pipe and a drip still on the pipe. By the time the plumbers came the puddle had dried to 1/2 its original size. We pushed the heat up again in an attempt to start the dripping, but nothing dripped. I’m incredibly frustrated that I cannot demonstrate this. The good news is Michael saw the remaining puddle and believes me. They are once again cutting and replacing pipes. Isn’t it a good thing that no one closed up the ceiling yesterday? Is that a 😦 or a 🙂 ? And now back to our original post….

TJI still have a half-written post about how wonderful it is to work in the new kitchen. I have photos, too. But I’ve been a bit busy with other things and haven’t had much time or mental energy to write. It’s interesting how bad things can get those mental juices flowing. That must be part of the reason so much great literature is about unhappiness. Take the opening line of ‘Anna Karenina‘: “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” When everything is great and happy and wonderful, there is less impetus to write.

preparing front hallYesterday was an exciting day in the kitchen renovation. It should have been the penultimate day (I’m still hoping that Don will come through for me and get the electricians here with deck lighting, but just between you and me – I suspect that lighting has fallen by the wayside.). The plumbers and TJ were here to put in the new radiators, install the cold water filter under the kitchen sink and to put in the oil-rubbed bronze hardware in the pocket door. 3 plumbers and TJ all working away in the kitchen, basement and front hall. The cats were imprisoned once again upstairs. BC had gone up there on her own, but I had to physically catch and carry GC and WC up behind the wooden door. The plumber was astounded at the sounds WC makes as she is carried up to her incarceration. Hard to believe such a little thing can make such a loud appalling noise. (Her life is soooo hard, she’s had much practice.)

The new radiators were very exciting to everyone, as the plumbers had never worked with this kind of unit before. placing the radiatorI learned a lot of interesting things as well. For starters, I learned that “wall mounted” does NOT mean that the water pipes come through the walls. It means that there are no feet on the floor, but that the water pipes do still come through the floor. I’d been told that the front hall radiator would be wall mounted but the one in the kitchen would not, as it is situated in front of the pocket door. As it turned out, they were both mounted on the wall. I knew the new floor would be drilled in the kitchen therefore but I did not realize the slate in the front hall would be drilled as well. That was not an issue because I’d already told Michael weeks ago that I was resigned to the fact that the slate might need to be drilled. The holes for the pipes are so small (comparatively) that it really is no big deal. The radiators are beautiful and do exactly what I hoped – fade into the wall behind them.

The other thing I learned was how my heating system works. My husband was very smug when he told me he knew this all along. Huh. But he knows NOTHING about BLEEDING the radiators, so there. hole in ceilingMy huge old cast iron radiators all have 4 feet (hence not wall-mounted) and there is a pipe going in one end and a pipe coming out the other end. I’ve always assumed that meant the water flowed in one end, out the other and went on its merry way to the next radiator. That is NOT the case. All of the radiators get water IN from one set of pipes and release it OUT to a different set of pipes. That explains why when I see the pipe running up from one floor to another there are always 2 pipes. The IN system is controlled by valves on each radiator that can either allow water into that unit or that unit can be bypassed as the water flows to the next unit. This setup means that the boiler can be going but individual radiators can be turned off without turning off every radiator downstream. I never realized that. It will be important.

soffitAnyway, things were going swimmingly (and yes, I choose that word deliberately). The filter was in, the pocket door hardware was in, the radiators were in, the water was turned on to fill the radiators and we upped the thermostat to make the water hot. And then Michael saw water on the kitchen floor. He went to the basement and there was water dripping down onto the floor there. There was a leak within the walls.

dirty fingerprintsI will spare you the drama that ensued. I will say that I stayed very calm, which I suspect most of you will not believe. But over the last year or so I HAVE learned that things that can be solved by money are probably not the big things in life. And these contractors have worked such magic that I believe they can fix anything and make it beautiful. I was concerned that the plumber might have heart failure, he was that upset. That is NOT fixable by money.

So. At day’s end we did have heat (which was good, because the overnight temps were in the 40s F), although the 2 new radiators were still offline. There is now a big hole in my gorgeous kitchen ceiling, saw-marks on the soffit, and dirty fingerprints on the other side of the soffit (for balance while investigating). kitchen radiatorThere is also a scratch on the floor from the step ladder but you have to have your face very close to see it. I mentioned it to my husband who said “I see it” and pointed to a non-existent scratch elsewhere. *grin* I was up close and personal because I was cleaning up after everyone had left.

Michael is back today (not the whole crew) and he’s bringing the new radiators online. I understand there will be someone coming sometime to fix the ceiling, front hall radiatorbut as is typical with communications on this job (I have mentioned my dissatisfaction with the information flow) I don’t know who or when. Since there is no longer a key in the lock box they will have to let me know. I do hope it’s sooner rather than later as I was planning to throw a “come see my gorgeous new kitchen” party. Sigh.

These are all things and can be fixed. It’s disappointing, but not terminal. The house is warm, all the radiators are going. My water is filtered. I have matching hardware in my pocket door. The sun is shining. And the cats are happy.
One of these days I’ll even finish the post about how fantastic it is to work in the kitchen.

BC on boots

Obligatory Cat Photo – BC decided to rest on my rainboots

We Haz Counters!

IMG_9187The counters arrived Tuesday. I love them. The color, as I said previously, is not quite what I expected, but it is still gold enough to make me happy. I may have gotten the color a bit more true in these pictures, but still not 100% right. The most surprising thing about this delivery, compared to all the other deliveries, is that NO ONE called to confirm that someone would be home. I’d told them last week when we were there that I’d be home, but there was no confirmation email or phone call. Considering all the other deliveries of appliances and online orders that insisted someone be home, I found it interesting that no one was checking about access for the counters.

IMG_9184There were 3 workers. They came. They surveyed. They rearranged. I mention this because the dishwasher is no longer sitting in front of its designated slot but is now partially blocking the way to the bathroom – it’s directly across from the refrigerator, which makes for a very tight fit. The pieces for the stove were exiled to the floor of the breakfast room. They were eagle-eyed, these workers. One look and they knew that more stone cutting was needed.

The stove will be nestled between the dining room door, cabinets, and the front hall. While the one flanking cabinet fits neatly and snugly against the dining room doorway, the companion quartz counter is larger than the cabinet and, therefore, either it or the doorway needed cutting. We all agreed that the counter would take the hit. Other than that, things moved quickly.IMG_9200 It has amazed me all through this project how quickly these professionals work. They come in, do the job, do it well, and go. It always seems to me that the task will take X hours, but it always gets done in <X. The workers are also so pleasant and helpful. While they were doing some setup and measuring I asked questions about the process. I had no sense that they were bothered by it – they definitely each took time to explain different aspects at some point. Educational and interesting.

IMG_9199As seen in the template, we have a large L-shaped slab, an unbroken piece of quartz from one end of the counter to under the sink. When I saw the 3 of them laboring with that slab, I was very, very glad I never had to make the decision about getting a slab for the breakfast room bay window seat. We would NEVER have been able to move that seat to get to the radiator. These were 3 big strong men and I could see that they had to really WORK to control that piece of quartz. But they did it and it’s gorgeous.

I got a bit nervous about the sink/faucet connection once I saw the installed sink. My memory had pictured the enlarged end as much longer than it is. IMG_9201I saw where they were going to drill for the hole and began worrying that my faucet was going to hit the wall behind it. I am extremely bad at visualizing space and item placement. (That is why my sister always had to pack my suitcase for me until she got me started on nylon packing cubes. 🙂 ) I asked them about that after the hole was in and they said they were just about to test it. I did not say – and what if it doesn’t fit? My experience with these crews is that they fix any and everything. Sure enough, it fit beautifully. Now it is resting back in its box, awaiting its final destiny.

The only down-side to the counters was the smell. It was HORRIBLE. They used acetone to clean the quartz, and there was glue used between the wood and the quartz, and some caulking as well (I think). The acetone is horrendous. It was a day for a/c (“real feel” over 100 and HUMID) so the house was closed up. The smell is nauseating. IMG_9195Once they left I put every exhaust fan I had in the windows, opened the skylight, the back door, and the bathroom window and let the house air out. Luckily it did not take too long to get the smells to clear.

I took out the knobs and pulls and they look perfect to me with the cabinets and counter. I’m a little worried now about the finish I picked for the faucet, because I was thinking of the back splash at that time. I’m not sure if the oil-rubbed bronze is going to ‘work’. If things ever get put in place, we’ll find out then. It’s only a faucet – it can be replaced. Unlike the knobs and pulls which can never be replaced for 3 generations. 🙂

IMG_9214So now I’m here waiting to hear something, anything about what might happen next. Sorry to say that despite my email yesterday, and the promise to get back to me with an update, I’ve heard nothing. Yes, I’m disappointed, even annoyed. The pieces I have are beautiful. It would be even more beautiful if they were also functional.

The Bloom Is Off The Rose

Every relationship has its bumpy patches, and we’ve reached that time with our contractors.

I spend a good part of MY professional life managing my clients’ expectations and keeping them informed about matters of interest to them. I am good at that aspect of my work. I expect the same when I am on the client end of a relationship.

The renovation relationship started off with excellent communication, whether by phone or email or face-to-face conversations. Ever since the cabinets were installed (the last of the large payment checks, I might add), communication has been minimal to non-existent. I have had to initiate every conversation about what was happening and what would happen. To be fair, not much was happening after the counter templates were made. I heard that there was a delay but then for 2 weeks there was no word at all. I am the one who reached out after 2 weeks to ask for an update and lo-and-behold- they’d “just heard that day”. Maybe, maybe not. Forgive my skepticism but in light of subsequent behavior, I’m not as convinced about that timing as I might have been.

I’ve told you of our trip to see our slab, and about the soffits and crown molding. The QUARTZ people are the ones who mentioned to us that they would be installing on Tuesday. I heard nothing from the contractors who are, by nature of our contract, supposed to be arranging all of these things. Today, Tuesday, I finally wrote to them to ask if indeed the counter would be arriving. I got an email that said they would check. We’re paying them to be managing this, it’s NOT supposed to be my job to manage the people with whom they have contracted. The counters arrived before any email.

I thought about it long and hard and then drafted an email. I said we are now in week 14 of a projected 10-12 week project. I am not upset about that, I wrote. I AM upset with the lack of communication and any notion of a schedule. I wrote that I understand that schedules are fluid and some things cannot be controlled. But I want a projected schedule of all the things that still have to be done. I have no idea if I’m looking at another 2 weeks, 3 weeks, a month, longer. There is a lot that still needs doing.

I got a reply this afternoon, which I consider a good response time. (Again – I do this all the time myself as a professional. I know what is involved in forming a response.) My first reaction was a “pffffft” as he addressed the delay. The delay, while not desired, is not the problem – I NEVER expected this to take only 10-12 weeks. I’m still absorbing his comments about the communication, which are focused on this morning. I’ve been feeling uninformed for several weeks now. I’m hoping that when I get the promised update of what is to come, it will cover all the gaps that I feel exist.

My counters are beautiful and I will share them with you tomorrow. Today is working through a bit of disappointment.

Knob and Tube Wiring

IMG_8493In the last few years of my home-ownership, I have discovered 2 things I would change if I could go back in time and make different decisions. The first mistake, that seemed absolutely correct at the time, was putting down that horrible black ground cover underneath the mulch that was all around my deck. Why was there mulch all around my deck? Because my deck is several feet off the ground, and I envisioned active children climbing about and falling. I wanted a nice soft cushion (or comparatively soft) in case of someone falling off the railing. (Always plan for the worst-case scenario.) The irony is that the mulch disintegrated, became dirt, became weeds, became a few inches deep of landscaping I don’t want. I tried to plant a morning glory and could not figure out why I could not dig more deeply. Upon closer inspection I found the black fabric. I had to take a scissors and hack away at it to create an opening wide enough for the plant and dig down so the roots could extend. I’ve hit the same issue with everything else I have tried to plant in the back. I will NEVER use black fabric again.

IMG_8507I was born in an old town – here since before 1776. My parents’ house was not that old, but it wasn’t new. It must have been built back in the 1930s or so. At that time gas lights were out and the new fangled electricity was in. And you got your electricity through your house with knob and tube wiring. We never had an issue with electricity in that house. Over time my father had the main panel upgraded from those little round glass thingies (fuses?) to circuit breakers, added a subpanel, but all of that was hooked to the K&T and everything was fine. We bought our house in the same town over 30 years ago and knew that there was K&T. Our homeowners insurance company knew there was K&T and we got insurance with no problem. We too have upgraded our panel, added a subpanel, rewired to modern standards whenever we had any electrical work done, but the core of the original house still has K&T. Even in places where we bypassed the K&T it was often left in place, disconnected, because of the mess and inconvenience of removing it. Let me also point out that the core of the house has plaster walls, not sheet rock. That’s just how things were done in those days.

Flash forward to selling our parents’ house 3 years ago. We learned then that we would have to rip apart the (plaster) walls and remove and replace all of the K&T because any new homeowner would not be able to get insurance on the house with K&T in existence. Yes, read that again. A perfectly working, reliable electrical system that never failed is uninsurable. I think one estimate we got was $10k to do the work. We couldn’t even find anyone to call us back with a solid estimate.

IMG_8508Asbestos. Did I forget to tell you about asbestos? All the hot water pipes way back when were wrapped in asbestos. When I was a teenager having parties in the basement, Daddy had wrapped red tape around the white asbestos so that people would not hit their heads (it was a low ceiling). My father, may his memory be for a blessing, was oh so smart. Daddy (wrongfully) removed most of the asbestos in HIS house by cutting it off himself (wearing a little cloth face mask) and bagging it up and tossing it in the garbage. But there was still some left. When we bought OUR house, of course there was asbestos. I’d grown up with asbestos, so what. At that time an ACCEPTED TREATMENT was to wrap the pipes with something such as heavy-duty aluminum foil, sealing them up completely. My husband donned his little respirator and dutifully wrapped every single pipe he could reach, wrapping them with the heavy-duty foil and miles of duct tape. We can’t sell the house with that either.

IMG_8504Knowing all this now, I’d have ripped apart my house before I moved in, and upgraded all the electrical (which I couldn’t have afforded – not the electrical part, not the repairing the ripped apart walls and ceilings) and had the asbestos removed “by professionals”. Maybe I’d have even removed the zillion layers of flooring you can see under the kitchen radiator. Of course all the horrible wallpaper would have been dealt with then too. As it stands now, I plan to burn my house to the ground before I’m ready to sell. Then no one can give me grief about my pipes, my electricity, my probably-not-current-grade water pipes and I can just sell a plot of land. It will cut down on a lot of inspections. And think how easy it will be to til that plot and rip up the stupid black fabric if there is no house in the way.

We all have fantasies……


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