Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Happy House-a-versary!

June 14th: Happy House-a-versary!

It was on noon of this day, one year ago, that Jason held my left hand under the table while I signed (and signed, and signed) the mortgage papers that would make this dear house mine. My mortgage broker gave me a tin of chocolate chip cookies and a ink roller that stamps my name with new address on return mail. The woman who officiated the sale asked me how strong I like my bubbly. She did not seem surprised that I opted for As Strong As Possible; I guess I didn't give off the LDS vibe. I left the office with a bottle of champagne, a tin of cookies, and a very thick folder of mortgage documents.

Dear house, you didn't know what you were getting in for. Between roofing woes, tippy beam and moldy wall, you and I got to know each other, warts and all. This winter, there hasn't been so much renovation as there has been ruining, but what is a good love if it isn't worn in, a little bit? Dear house, I've nicked your delicate lathe and plaster walls, I've scorched your clean new paint, I've let your windows get filthy. But now, it is a new summer, and with summer comes the Season of the Blarg. Watch out, dear house: I've paid off my Home Depot credit card.

Granted, there have been changes that a good blarg would have documented. Most importantly, Jason and I are no longer alone in the house. On January 29th, a new life form came to call this house his home: Briscoe, the dog. For the full story on Briscoe (and all things fabulous and thrifty) check out my guest blog on ThrippieGalore, my dear friend and colleague's life & fashion blog. Let's just say, this house loves a dog, and so do I.

We have yet to finish the studio apartment in the back, but the wood has been purchased, and the Greenhouse Window has been installed.
The back bathroom is still a staging area for future construction, but hang tight, dear readers: I've boo
ked Jason (of Artisan Hardwood Flooring, a true gentleman and professional) to make some progress as of next week. We've spent a winter sitting and pondering and watching Battlestar Gallactica. We're like the Cylon: we have a plan. It's posted on the refrigerator door, and color coded. In fact, we're so good, we have two plans. We may not have chosen a which one, but hey: color coded.

Also in important news, we can add another character to the cast of This Old Blarg: meet Brother Button, the archaeologist. Seth is good at many things, and seems to share a genetic predisposition for playing in dirt. While he is working for an archaeology firm down in Moab, Seth occasionally comes to spend a weekend in Salt Lake with me, Jason, the house and the puppy. Seth is particularly tolerant of our lifestyle, taking in stride the curious conditions of life in our house. He does not question comments like, "Oh, you can't lock it from that side," or "That tape? Yeah, that means don't use the sink." He has patiently washed his hands in the bathtub for the past month while I procrastinated a plumbing problem, and didn't even curse when the puppy chewed up the power cord to his computer. He knows that the big hole in the backyard belongs to Briscoe (it's only bad behavior if it's not supervised) and he knows not to hack up Audrey III, the grandmama of all thistle plants that is spawning by the compost pile. One weekend, I left Seth out back with a shovel and a general description of the area I'd like to turn into a garden bed. I kid you not: 15 minutes later, the sod had been cut and turned into the rich top soil in a perfect 20' x 5' garden bed. Dear house, I know you've wanted a garden very badly, ever since we met. Our giant pots of last year were a poor substitute. Look, house -- there are baby tomato plants growing in the backyard! You must be very proud.

This spring, Mama Screech, our resident owl, showed up with two fuzzy owlets. The biggest pine weathered the winter with ease, despite heavy, heavy snow and winds. It was a snowy winter -- the snowfall in the mountain exceeded the slang spectrum and the skier dudes were left speechless. This spring, after we finally cleared the last of the mulching leaves from fall off the sad lawn, Jason discovered a latent love for mowing grass. With a puppy sleeping in the shade of the porch and a handsome redhead pushing whirr of the reel mower, I great a great sense of satisfaction from collecting piles of fresh cut grass. If it was a salad, I would eat it with strawberries and red wine vinegar. If we had a horse, I would feed it with my hand. As it is, we only have a hungry compost pile behind the garage (which Jason has started to call the Barn, which I love, because we never park cars in there and it just sounds much more romantic) and, of course, Audrey III.

Out front, I've added a raspberry bush and some more strawberries to the Things You Can Eat bed by the porch, and a baby peach tree is currently deciding if it wants to survive in the front strip. The blueberry bushes are dangling tiny white flowers, but the birds have eaten all the wild strawberries before they've turned ripe. The snacking tomatoes (Mexabilly Midgits, Sungold, Ace 55 and Juliets) grow by the flagstone path that desperately needs weeded, and $2.50 worth of terra cotta tile from Re-Store inspired me to build an official walkway where the mailman would step, anyway.

So what's on tap, blargers and blargistas? Well, remind me to tell you the story of the bathroom sink and the demon inside it, along with my most quotable encounter from Home Depot: "If you're buying a Sawzall, that means you're ready to f- some shit up." Ready? I don't know about that. But willing? Well, I'm really tired of brushing my teeth in the bathtub, even if Briscoe likes to lick the toothpaste when I'm done. And really, what else is summer vacation for?

Friday, October 8, 2010

Love Hurts, Mr. Vine

All too often, our favorite things are also the source of our greatest anxieties: career ambitions, romantic partners, giant pine trees... The things we love keep us awake at night, make us reconsider choices, make us promise to do better, find the answer, work harder.

I was drawn to the pine trees from the very beginning. They're the tallest trees on the block, towering over the rows of single-story Utah ramblers like those rare and beautiful 7th grade girls who sway above the boys with grace and elegance instead of scrunching downwards into the offending spine, the emerging collarbones, the chin, the leg. These pine trees were content to be tall.

They are not, however, identical. The first one -- the one closest to the house, is a different kind (note: already I am comparing her as if the other were the standard; she is different) with branches that are all single swoops without any divergences. They sway like cartoon Snuffleupagus trunks in the wind, back and forth, up and down. They mock dramatic weather with their gentle circles, buoyant ease. Occasionally, I worry that her elephantine branches are too close to my new roof, that she will drop too many needles in my gutters (oh wait, I haven't put my gutter back on -- Add To Do), or in the midst of an especially powerful gust, the grace of her limbs will be pushed to the limit, twisting something until it goes *twang* and tumbles down and pierces through the shingles, tar-paper, OSB and rafters and goes into the attic. Sometimes, knowing exactly the make-up of your shelter gives you leave to worry about it even more. But most of the time, I trust this tree. Everybody likes a Snufflsupagus: simple, slow-moving, and predictably endearing.

The second one -- the bigger one, in the back yard -- is denser and darker and more complicated. She is thicker at the base, with branching limbs that nest above in thatches and droops. She is also the one that has been twined around and around with ivy: vines as thick as my wrist grow from the base up into the canopy, twisting out alone the lower limbs and drooping down long curtains of dense foliage. This is tree I love and worry over in the wind, in the rain, when I think of the Ice Storm of 1991 in Rochester NY when all the trees were pulled down limb by limb from the weight of the ice that formed in thick, clear, brilliant flesh around every imaginable surface area. The violence caused over night was gorgeous, silent, and without mercy. This is the tree I worried about when I bought the house, when I leave the house, when I come home to the house. This is the tree that hosts the owl's nest near the top, above the clot of ivy choking the thick trunk, above the bench Jason and I scavenged from a pile of loose shingles and roofing materials on the side of the road four years ago, that my mother sewed cushion covers for that we stuffed with left-over camping foam after the road trip when J and I drove his new car from Michigan to Utah, following his return from Africa. This is the tree I worry about when I sit on the same bench that Jason fixed a couple weeks ago, using his drill gun to reattached the leg that had fallen off in transit, using the hand-sander to polish off the fuzz of aged wood splinters, using linseed oil to condition it for winter and bring out the grain. This is the tree that I worry about when we grill vegetarian Italian Sausage on two prong sticks above a fire in the grill that technically belongs to Erik but at this point I think we have squatter's rights, and besides, Jason got him a newer, better one anyway, I think. This is the tree.

So while I indulged in ambient anxiety, listening to the fall rain patter off the roof and plink against the tops of the paint cans I still have piled up outside my back porch door, Jason asked The Google what to do about our friend the vine.

Don't get me wrong. I liked the vine. It had big, lush leaves that shaded the summer's hot and drip-dropped the rain into a thin mist during our wet fall. I loved how it sent out spines of roots along the trunk of the pine, weaving itself into the bark, the bone, the marrow. But as we suspected, beauty kills, and eventually, even the loving ivy will overpower its pine host.

I took my saw-knife (it came in a 2-pack for $12.99 at Home Depot with a set of garden clippers) and I cut the vine off at the base. Then, Jason continued to cut another root, at the other base. And another root, around the back. Without the life-blood of the ground, our ivy began to wither.

Fall is here. The ivy leaves are brown and crumpled, but not quite ready to be dead. When they're weak enough, I'll pull them down in long strands from the tree. I'll try to do it when the owl isn't home, so I don't disturb him. We will not burn them, because The Google also told us that many vines give off toxins when in fire. Also, do not each the berries, even though they are pretty.

The backyard is a wild place, but even this year, we'll do our best to prevent my favorite pine tree from falling down on top of my house in the middle of the night with one great thumping SQUASH. Even wilderness appreciates a little pruning. Love hurts, my friend the vine. Sometimes you have to cut back in order to grow forward.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Shame Dance

Back when Nicole and I lived together in the Roosevelt Grotto O Good'n'Plentitude (a creaky but spacious apartment we proceeded to cram full of a thousand of our favorite things, even after they became broken or defunct or occasionally, moldy), we sometimes indulged in an evening movie or two of the variety commonly known as God Awful. This includes anything to do with dancing, or cheerleading, or men on white horses. Sometimes, we watched these movies at home via Netflix on one of our computer screens, dragging the cable across the floor from underneath the small wooden table that we used sometimes for eating and sometimes for collecting things like paperclips, old mail, books, papers to be graded, random Mortgage materials (mine) and dissertation drafts (Nicole). Sometimes, we would go down the road to the Dollar Theater and plan ourselves a double-feature with an interlude at the bird-house looking little beer shack that serves beverages by the juice-glass and has nowhere to sit besides the bar. In between the locals watching sports on tiny cracked screens and the Simpsons paraphanalia, we would sip on a juice glass or two, pay in singles and quarters, and tromp back up for Round 2 of cheesy chic flicks. Good times, I tell you: good times. After a few repeat performances, we decided to name our personal film festival: SHAME-DANCE. It's like Sundance, but for movies that you don't want to admit that you watched... and enjoyed.

I feel as if I have had a similar attitude towards my house so far: I relish and enjoy every cranny of its half-unpacked, half-finished space, but I've been a little ashamed of it, at the same time. Even as the house shaped up, I became increasingly aware of how my shabby stuff looked inside it. Grandma Turpin's green and gold couch (which belonged to Nicole's old roommate's grandmother -- this couch is at most distantly related to me, yet has become an intimate acquaintance) looked especially faded and squarshy in the corner surrounded by the rapidly degrading cardboard boxes that lost a little more of their structural integrity every time I went digging through one looking for *that* shirt or *those* shoes. My end table lay in pieces in the corner, one sad leg dangling half-attached from the frame. My giant Hefty bag full of "Kitchen Overflow" items (mostly Tupperware that at one point belonged to friends who sent me home with food) squatted prominently in the middle of my living room.

This was my house, and I loved it, but it was not a house for guests. Yet.

And then, one weekend, we started cleaning out the shame. Jason made me pick out four tupperware containers and then put the rest in the garage. We moved my bed into the real bedroom, on the nice new floor, set up my closet, unpacked my clothes, moved in the dresser and end tables, hung the China Ball / Hornet's Nest light (depending on who you ask to describe it) in the corner, and swept out a summer's worth of dust and construction and Dickens hair from the office, where I had been sleeping. We cleaned. Everything. I mixed up a hand-labeled container of "The Good Stuff" -- eucalyptus castille soap with lemongrass essential oil. Jason single-handedly cleared the front room of ALL boxes. He put books on shelves. I washed dishes. He built furniture. I graded papers. He washed dishes. I graded papers. We ended the day with a campfire in the newly formed grill-pit in the backyard, underneath my pine trees, on the newly refurbished bench, listening to the owl who lives in the tree. Hoo, hoo-hoo. Hoo. He says.

Now that's one dance I'm not ashamed of. Fall is here. My house is ready. Kind of. Almost. It will be.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Still-Life Without Hummingbird

September 1st... the Summer Of Blarg is almost over. This week has marked the beginning of the school year kicking into high gear, with all the host of meetings, photo-copying, and high-wire balance-act attempts at Classroom Decoration that are to be expected. As a testament to the work that I've done this summer and how it has facilitated my personal growth, I put my hand in a giant spider's nest at the back of a bookshelf that was full of -- get this -- crunchy globs of spider eggs, and not only was there no screaming, there wasn't even an "eww," just a judicious nose wrinkle and a decisive wiping of hand on pants. New definition of "teacher clothes" = Can Wipe Spider Eggs On. Along with the new school schedule comes a new definition of "clean" in my kitchen: if you can't see old food caked on it, it's good enough. The tomatoes are starting to take over all the surface areas -- they are piled into nooks and crannies -- they fill the bread box, hide on top of the fridge, and teeter at the edge of the kitchen island (aka, computer desk, but hey, I have re-nomen-ed its clature and that goes a long way. Barthes says.).

In any case, here is a virtual tour of some of the almost finished projects around the house. Oo and Ahh as appropriate. Thank you very much. But first -- here's a recap of some of the all-time best "before" pictures when things were look pretty far from ever finished:

Remember that? That was July, back in the 99 degree days, full of toxicity, sweat and tears. Now, this is the new floor -- minus carpet, linoleum, and paint, plus stain, seal, and 4 coats of finish.

I call this one, "Still Life With Ladder" -- it is an evening picture of the bedroom in the last stages of completion: finishing the last coat of yellow paint in the upper reaches of the closet. I hate painting closets -- they're stuffy and you don't even really look inside them all that often. You could paint, "screw you, closet!" in yellow on the upper corner of the wall, and nobody would ever notice. In fact, maybe I even did that - you can't tell, can you?

We decided on going with a rich, dark stain in the bedroom to offset the pale yellow and green of the walls. It is a coat of Rosewood covered with all the Cherry and Golden Oak we had left in the bucket. It really popped out the grain of the pine, and there are some gorgeous knots and textures that are very striking. I'm a huge fan. Next to the Vermont Cream trim, it has a clean, classy look. The floor is so very, very smooth, the wood grain glows, even in artificial light, and it doesn't seem heavy or too dark. It's like Jason said -- the floor is the frame for the picture of the room, and having a little contrast is really nice. Dang, that man is good at his job. I helped, a little.

Now, I'll have to get him to do his other job and get some good photos that do this floor justice. My little ol' cell phone camera isn't really capturing the magic.

This is actually the new laundry room -- freshly painted in full-on crazy. I love it. My "It's Not Pink" is recently adjusted to be "Really, NOT Pink" -- and even Jason shrugs in a more agreeing than not sort of way. Shannon confirms it: "it's totally not pink." Still, the poor wall is doomed to a life of being always defined by what it is not -- there's a lit theory reference in there, too, but dude, I can't remember who that was. Saussure? Derrida? I'm kind of pleased that I've reached a degree of sufficiently washed up as a recovering ex-grad student that I can't remember. My real-world therapy and diet of Buffy and nachos must be working.

And look at the color of that green/blue wall -- I love it! For a former mushroom colony, it sure cleans up real nice. Now I just have to get the time and vehicular power to make an arrangement with the generous Johnny W, who is donating a laundry-machine to the cause. It must be a public service because after a summer of this much hard work, I have GOT to be pretty stinky by now. Sheesh.

Oh, and last thing. The pipe wasn't my fault. Home Depot sold me another bum part. It was missing a tiny cap to prevent previously described peeing phenomenon. I've rectified the situation. I have water. It's totally done. It's the least I could ask. Let's not talk about it any more.

Friday, August 27, 2010

SCORE! Re-Store

Finally, some pictures of low to moderate success stories! I've discovered a new place to shop for discount home goods in town -- it's the Habitat for Humanity second-hand shop, called Re-Store. It's full of lots of donated goods from other people's remodels -- everything from sinks and bathtubs to light bulbs and bathtub caulk. They have a sale on office chairs for $5 right now, and if I could have fit a $15 couch into the back of Honda, I just might have done it. Here is the Hall Of Doors, as well as photos of the new stainless steel sink I got for the kitchenette. I went in search of a cool retro metal medicine cabinet, but decided to go with this oak one when I saw it. I'll keep it in the front bathroom, and put the fake oak one in the back bath, after painting it white to match all the other clean white things back there.

After getting a five dollar sink and a ten dollar medicine cabinet, I asked my refrigerator what it wanted to eat. Chocolate milk! my refrigerator said. That's weird, I thought, but had to oblige.

Speaking of Honda, I finally decided to go on the books as a Utah driver. Now that I own a house and all, I decided it was long past due to register my car. Two trips to the DMV, an obscene amount at the Honda Dealership and a can of WD-40 later, I got new Utah plates on little old Honda. The big question: which plate did I go with? Not that snooty skier, of course. I'll take earth-tone mountains over skier dude, any day.

Pipe dreams

This is my dream: I wish this pipe was the right pipe, and not the pipe that has a hole in the side of it for "draining the line" (isn't that what leaving the kitchen faucet running is for?) so that when I don't notice drain-hole, install New Pipe and then turn water on, all the water from the line wouldn't run continually out in a comically pee-like stream in my face in the basement. "I Love Lucy" has NOTHING on my home-improvement attempts when it comes to physical comedy.

If this pipe could arm-wrestle, I'd kick its pipey butt. Then I'd make it eat dirt -- basement dirt, the kind that gets ground into my knees and then I can't wash off my hands because I've turned off all the water to the house. A curse on you and all your pipe-like kin!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Good digs

August in Utah is out to kill: it bakes the earth in high 90s with full sun all day, every day, broken only by high winds and angry, stingy rainstorms. We had a doozy of a storm yesterday, complete with falling limbs and lots of trashcans and lawn furniture exchanged between neighbors. I was inside, trying to remind myself that getting nervous and worrying about my big pine trees squashing my house won't do anything to prevent said squashing. I spend some time looking out the windows at the tops of the trees blowing back and forth in cartoonishly wide swoops of their long piney branches. Then I turned up the radio and painted the closet, which is, by the way, the last thing that needed to happen in the re-done bedroom, besides the little nails being pounded into the baseboards to hold them into place, which is something Jason will do as soon as this inconvenient employment is over... honestly, doesn't this movie know that it's getting in the way of my home improvement? Oh, to be cursed with a boyfriend who is both artistic and handy... sigh. What more could I ask for?

This morning, the rain left the ground actually moist, cool, and perfect for digging. The temperature was also perfect -- at a high of 80 today, Utah has decided to give me some respite from the desert heat. Still, I started early: 7:30am found me with a shovel, starting in on a new track of dead lawn. After digging up the beds nearest the house and turning a strip along the sidewalk into a blueberry and tomato bed, I decided it was time to continue the garden patch along the flagstone walk to the drive.

There is nothing quite so much fun as digging in the dirt. I love digging up the old turf, especially - you cut the edges, wiggling the shovel under the turf from both sides, then slice it into manageable chunks, turning the patches of dead grass over to expose the root base, still full of good rich soil. The sun was still behind the neighbor's big tree when I got the point of raking the bottom of the turf to loosen the soil, shaking and shaking and thumping and shaking all the dirt out and tossing the dead clot of oldroots aside. Honestly, is there any happiness turning yucky old lawn into soft, silty earth, ready for planting with pretty things? But I get ahead of myself -- before I can plant, I started to turn the soil... and found that, like the other stretch of lawn I dug up, there is a layer of hardpack gravel and clayey earth about 8 inches below the good top soil. There is some perverse pleasure in searching out and prying up rocks the size of my fist, but around noon, I had to give it a break. There was this strange soreness in my side that I recognized from earlier in the summer: those are my digging muscles. I spent a day or two repenting this binge-like behavior before, wondering what I could have possibly done to deserve such punishment by lactic acid. Still, I thank my back for being a good back and only getting muscle sore, not pinchy owchy oopsy damaging spinal sore. I am old enough to know such things can happen to people who think they have indestructible backs. Still, there is always another rock to dig out, and such lovely weather, and as long as I am digging, I can't be expected to work on my school syllabi, which are quickly becoming unavoidable...

Here are some pictures of my yard so far. I love the blueberry bushes especially -- they are a lovely green against the dark mulch. Next year, the yew bushes will be fill out and the Russian sage will be sprawling into the pathway. The blueberries will be loaded and the hummingbirds (I saw one!) will zoom around the honey bees. The tall grasses will shade the porch and my rosemary will grow even bigger than the bush I had to leave behind at my old apartment. I'll plant the pear tree in the front yard for some shade, and it will magically only give me delicious fruits that don't fall and rot all over the yard. The tomatoes will do even better next year, when they get to be in the ground from the beginning of summer, although they're not too shabby this year -- look, aren't they beautiful? I love the actual plants -- I think I would grow tomato plants even if they didn't give any fruit. They're lush and hearty and brilliant.