Friday, August 24, 2012

Home Improvement Projects.

Or rather, why some people should NEVER attempt them.

I am married to a wonderful man who has many talents.  One of his areas of giftedness is home improvement projects.   Drywall, taping, mudding, painting, trim, hanging doors, water heaters, flooring and even gutting and remodeling a full bathroom are all within his scope of ability.  This is one of the reasons why we can afford to buy a house rather than rent one.  We don't really need a building maintenance man or landlord to handle home repairs and we don't have to call licensed professionals with every little thing, thus saving us hours of labor costs.

That being said, our current home seems to be eating up much of his precious few days off.  Every time we go to fix or update some little thing, we find ourselves making multiple trips to the blue or orange home improvement stores to swap out drill bits, hardware, PVC pipe, down spouts, ...whatever.  This tends to make the project time grow exponentially.  We have even started playing a little game before a new project begins.  We try to guesstimate how many trips to the store it will take before the job is completed.  If we get it done in fewer trips than our guess we "win".  What we win, I don't know.  It just feels good to say that we won.

This phenomenon is not limited to my house, or even my generation.  When I was in high school I spent many hours baby sitting for one particular couple that knew my parents.  They had just bought a two family home with plans of renting the top floor unit and living on the bottom floor unit.  That eventually worked out for them, but they hit a problem first.

The problem?   The house had been Buckleyed. 
(I apologize if you are a Buckley....I never met this particular branch of the family, just the aftermath of their projects.)

Every time something had to be done to the house it turned into a major project.
Say you needed to strip the wallpaper off.  That should not require much more than a steamer and some elbow grease, right?    Not if your house has been Buckleyed.  Nope.  This is when you pull off the switch covers and find out that wires aren't connected or grounded, or haven't been updated.  So instead of painting clean walls, you spend your weekend calling electricians and watching your decorating budget get spent on miles of wiring and hourly wages.

For the next weekend you figure you'll just rip up the carpet in the front hallway.  Messy and dusty, but not really expensive, right?  Guess again.  Remember, this house has been Buckleyed.  There was a reason why they put carpet down in the first place.  Apparently they weren't as good at re-finishing hardwood floors as they thought.    And on it went. For the entire time they lived there. 

Fast forward to present day. We love most things about our current house.  It is in a great location, has more square footage than anything we've ever lived in before and  the kitchen has more cabinet and counter space than the galley on the QE II.  It has, however, been Buckleyed.  And not just your basic Buckley plan either.  Oh no. This house has been given the deluxe treatment.

At first inspection the top few rows of exterior bricks on the chimney just looked like they needed to be re-pointed and sealed.  Not a big deal.  Just a weekend, a trip for supplies and some tools borrowed from some friends....... except, some previous owner apparently took a page from the Buckley play book and chose some weird type of brick and mortar that absorbs moisture and allows the bricks to expand and contract....and crumble to dust.....

Three months, two levels of scaffolding and one consult with a master mason later, we are removing the top 20" of brick and re-laying 250 bricks under the mason's supervision.

We knew the downstairs bathroom and shower needed to be re caulked and touched up.  Again no big deal.  A Saturday morning, a few tubes of caulking and time for everything to dry and seal......except....yup...Buckleyesque repairs done here too, allowing water to boldly mold where no water should have gone before.....

Two months, new caulking, new manifold, new shut off valves,  new drywall, new sub-flooring, new moisture barrier and new laminate flooring later and all we have left to do to complete the bathroom, bedroom, downstairs hallway and laundry room  is some tile, grout, bathroom paint, trim and door installation....   sigh.....

We thought maybe the backyard had escaped the "help" of the Buckleys, but alas we were sorely disappointed.   Apparently when a Buckley decides to change the landscaping, they do not believe in removing ANY of the old material...EVER.
Imagine my "delight" when trying to get a patch of yard ready for a small garden to find...
mulch,  laid over
landscaping fabric, laid over
red lava rock, laid over
more landscaping fabric....  in the front, back and side yards.

I was able to get a basil garden planted, but in order to use any other portion of the yard for food production we are really going to need to do/use the following:
Pull down all of the chain-link fence
Grind the 7  tree stumps out
excavate the former coy pond complete with full liner and gravel (now covered with mulch)
Completely scrape, regrade and re-seed the front and back lawns....

I'm thinking that buying tomatoes at $4.99/lb would be cheaper.

I'm also thinking that This Old House could do an entire season on locating where the Buckleys have lived and correcting any projects that have been attempted.
Or maybe we should have a National Register of Buckleyed Homes that qualify for special federal funding for any and all restoration projects.

So, if you ever find yourself standing in line at a home-improvement store behind a family that seems to be on a first name basis with all the staff, you can be sure that one of two things are happening.
Either someone is fixing a Buckley, or a Buckley is fixing to strike again...

'cause they missed the class on that!

Friday, August 10, 2012

How to keep a white shirt white (other than leaving it on the rack at the store)

Actually.... how to keep any shirt clean and stain-free for longer than 10 minutes.  Doesn't matter the color, fabric or style.  I am hard pressed at this moment to think of more than three shirts in my wardrobe that are not polka-dotted with an historical record of my past meals and professions.
As a teacher I quickly learned not to buy expensive blouses/sweaters/tops.  There isn't much point in paying good money for something that is going to soon become covered in any or all of the following:
1) permanent marker (any color....and they have MANY colors)
2) chalk  (yes, I still used chalk on occasion)
3) dry-erase marker
4) dry-erase eraser dust
5) pen (again...many colors)
6) coffee
7) coffee
8) coffee

 As the mother of young children (read infant/toddler stage) I also realized that anything that I bought to wear was going to be frequently baptized in any or all of the following:
1) bodily fluids (any type, from any orifice)
2) pureed veggies
3) pureed fruit
4) soggy cereal
5) dirt
6) tears (theirs AND mine)
7) coffee
8) coffee
9) coffee

As the mother of children who are now more self-sufficient you would think the clothing situation would have stabilized somewhat.

Now it just means that since I am not the one who made the pb&j, I am also not aware of the globs of pb&j that have been left on various surfaces around the house, including, but not limited to:
1) counters
2) cabinets
3) tables
4) chairs
5) I kid you not....bathroom doors
Thus leaving me with slightly perceptible remembrances of my children's lunches on my favorite shirts and sweaters....sigh......

I tried a few months ago to see if it could be done....this wearing of light colored tops for a whole day without disasters.   I made it exactly 32.4 minutes before I spilled my dark cream colored coffee on my new LIGHT cream colored sweater.  Good thing I got it on sale for 80% off, since I only got 2% use of it.

I did manage to keep my wedding dress clean for TWO receptions, but I think that was due more to the fact that I didn't have time to eat much, and went nowhere near a cup of coffee.

I found out this week though that I might actually have very little control over the situation.   Seems this problem is genetic, not academic.
 The children and I went to our state fair yesterday with my dad  A.K.A.  Grampy.
The kids were dressed in bright neon t-shirts and I had a white t-shirt with a 5k logo on the front. (You can already see where this is going, right?)
As my daughter takes her first bite of corn-dog, the copious amounts of mustard and catsup she had applied began to  slide off the corn-dog and onto her lime-green shirt.  She also decided to take a quick bath in her strawberry smoothie.   Her mother  (A.K.A. me) proceeded to dribble bits and pieces of the chili from her chili fries down the front of the (formerly) white t-shirt.   Grampy just laughed and shook his head.  Seems that he also has a wardrobe full of shirts that have been inaugurated in the same manner.

Our solution?
Pay more attention when we eat?  No
Don't eat or write during business hours? No
Don't have children?  Too late
Quit drinking coffee?   (excuse me while I pick myself up off the floor from laughing so hard.)

It is fairly simple.....
Never pay retail for shirts. Always keep a Tide with bleach pen handy. 

'Cause apparently most of my family has missed the class on this!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Life in the Mid-West  (part III, the final in a series)

Customs and Cultures...where should I start......
You would think that since English is the official language of the United States, it would work the same across the country.
Yeah, you would think.....
I have found that while we might all be using the same words, we are not using the same definitions.   That can get pretty confusing in a very short amount of time.  

Just think about the following imagined scenario:  I am out of carbonated beverages, so  I ask my husband to run to the store for me and hand him a short list of the things I need.  He comes back with a box of Just For Men.  The problem?  I gave him a list written in New Englandese, but he was shopping in the Mid-West.  See....not so simple after all.
New England: any carbonated beverage...root beer, Pepsi, Coke, etc..
Mid-West: Old fashioned word for men's hair-styling product.

 A real-life scenario:
We have gone out to eat and I have ordered an iced tea with my meal.   The waiter comes with the drinks, and I take a large sip of my tea.....only to choke, sputter, spurt and in general make a huge mess.  The problem???  I had ordered in New Englandese, but was sitting at a restaurant in the Mid-West.  I was expecting plain iced tea, but had gotten a mouthful of high-fructose corn syrup tea.
Southerners and Mid-Westerners have been known to have the same sputtering reaction to iced tea ordered in New England.
Iced Tea
New England = served unsweetened, all the time.
Mid-West = usually served sweetened
* the South, when ordering tea, it will be served iced and sweet enough to induce a diabetic shock.

Next real-life scenario:
I once got to teach a Physical Education class at a school in the Mid-West.  On my list of items the students needed to bring/wear to class I included the type of footwear I wanted the students to have. 
Again, I wrote the list in New Englandese, but sent it to parents who lived in the Mid-West....sigh....
The problem?   the 367 e-mails I received asking me what sneakers were.

Athletic Footwear
New England : Sneakers, or shoes designed and named for a specific sport (i.e. running shoes, basketball shoes, tennis shoes...etc..)
Mid-West: Any shoe used for any athletic purpose :  Tennis shoes

So you can see how the language can get a little confusing.  
Customs and traditions can be just as baffling.  Here is just one example:

State Fair:
New England: Wasn't that a musical???   Do states still have those????
Mid-West: (especially Iowa)  Everyone in the entire state makes it point to schedule their last few days of vacation around the dates of their state fair.  Heated discussions/fights take place in state capitols about why schools should NOT start their academic calendars until AFTER the fair had closed.  Any Mid-Westerner on cholesterol medication goes on a strict plant-based dietthe month before the fair so they can sample all 67 varieties of fried foods (most of which are served on a stick for portability as you walk/roll to the next fried food stand).  Entire sections of the largest newspaper in the state are dedicated to informing you about the fair schedule, exhibit locations and contest information.  Grocery stores put extra staff on their customer service desks to handle the people coming in to buy their advanced discount admission tickets.  And just to make sure you don't miss any of the booths offering bacon wrapped, batter dipped, fried hot dogs...there is a State Fair Food Locator iphone app for that.

Hmmmmm......I think I missed the class on that...
But the fair opens this week, and I bet I can get caught up  ;)