Friday, July 29, 2011

all this activity

It's one week in and although I've not completely kept to schedule, I'm happy with the progress of the household projects.  The kitchen wall and shelves are finished.  The living room has been cleared out, the floor scrubbed and the walls repaired.  Tomorrow will have me priming the floor and walls and then painting.

I continue to be miffed about the shoddy workmanship in this house.  When we purchased it, we were assured that the wall studs for interior walls would be actual 2x4s 16" on center.  Lies.  We were told that the floor was plywood - specifically not OSB.  Lies.  We were told the carpet had padding beneath it. Lies.  One can only imagine the other things that were done incorrectly.  We've already had to rewire two light switches.  The front door was installed incorrectly and caused floor damage that we'd never have realized until too late had we not decided to remove the carpet in the living room.  The master bathtub was installed incorrectly, causing it to crack around the drain and resulting in an unsightly fiberglass patch.  Doors either don't stay shut or stick.  The house was to be set-up for either gas or electric stove use, but only has a standard electrical outlet (and the gas supply line is incorrect - and now crimped due to substandard employees of the propane company)... we have a breaker labeled "range" that does not appear to go to any installed outlet - who knows if wires were even attached and if they were, where they terminate.

Yet even with all the troubles, I love our house.  It is too big for my taste - allowing us to accumulate clutter and close it off in seldom-used rooms.  The kitchen has an awkward layout.  The closet is small.  But it is -our- house.  A huge purchase for us - people who buy used cars second and third-hand and who tend to struggle to make the budget work - but we found a way, with a lot of help from family and some excellent timing and a workable payment schedule.  We've been here almost ten years.  We've whelped puppies, baked holiday meals, fought mouse and ant invasions by the score, vanquished palmetto bugs, recovered from illnesses and celebrated birthdays in this house.  We've cried over the loss of loved ones and been consoled.  We've cheered over exam scores - and wept over exam scores.  We've screamed in frustration and in passion.  In short, we've lived here.  And in living here, we've given a part of ourselves to the house and made it into a home. 

So I'll continue to paint and patch walls and clean and find solutions for whatever disaster threatens on the horizon, and I'll continue to plan out imaginary remodels and various deck plans and toss around the idea of just building a Japanese style bath house in the yard and eliminating our tiny bathroom all together... but I won't begrudge a moment of the time we've spent here, and I hope we have many more years to share with this house.

This week we have finished 1/3 of the kitchen - all that we can do until we can finance an entire remodel of the room - and we have cleared the clutter of two years out of our living room.  In fact, we've cleared everything out of the living room in preparation for repainting.  This is not the first time we've painted the living room.  At the moment, the walls are a color I like to call "light adobe" which is to say they are about the shade of a seriously sun-bleached clay pot.  It was nice while it lasted.  It was also one of the first rooms I painted in the house and I wasn't all that smart when it came to picking paint.  I went with a flat, rather than semi-gloss or gloss, thinking it would be more muted.  I was partly correct.  While the flat paint is not shiny, it is somewhat chalky and tends to readily show scuffs and marks.  This time around we are using a semi-gloss.  We went that route in the kitchen and it looks quite nice - not too shiny, but more durable.

We knew we wanted a bright yellow for the kitchen.  And the guest bath that opens off the living room is a bright spring green (well, it's a somewhat dull green at the moment, but it will be a bright spring green soon enough).  Every room in the house with the exception of the master bath and closet open off of the living room - so a color that will work as a transition is important.  The master bedroom is slated for a lavender shade.  Guest bedroom - marine blue.  Library - burgundy.  And we liked the adobe living room... but opted to go with a somewhat tan color.  It has a hint of the adobe, without being pink, and a hint of the yellow in the kitchen without the brightness.  I'm excited to see how it turns out.

Today we scrubbed the floor.  Not an easy task when the floor is OSB.  Especially when it is neglected OSB that has had some rough wear-and-tear.  We started with a long-handled scrub brush, using a heavy solution of floor cleaner.  Peter toweled up the puddled water and used a smaller brush on stubborn spots.  It took some time.  It took some effort.  Ok, it wiped us both out.  But we powered on.  After the scrubbing, we let the floor dry while we went to town for a new mop head - ours is currently inaccessible in the guest bathtub, blocked in by some of the things we moved out of the living room.  Plus we required a few incidental supplies for the upcoming painting.  Once back home, I patched the damaged walls.  Steel wool in the mouse holes, followed by a generous application of drywall mud.  After this, I mopped the floor.  Again, not an easy task when the mop threads want to snag on the bits of wood, but it wasn't as bad as I expected.  The floor is remaining remarkably intact through all this abuse.  The mop solution this time was roughly 2 gallons of scalding hot water with about 2 cups of bleach.  Ok, maybe 3 cups of bleach.  Let's just say that, in my opinion, if a house smells like bleach it smells clean.  I want my house to smell clean.  The mopping went well and we set up two fans to speed the drying process.  I had hoped it would be dry in time for me to prime it before bed, but it is not, so you get this blog post instead.

And now the OCD is kicking in.  Did I clean the floor enough?  Couldn't I have scrubbed it a little more?  Do I need to sand down the rough spots? Should I have gone over it with another course of clear water?  Did I use too much water? I've gone to the bedroom door no less than a dozen times, intending to just pop out and check on the floor.  I've stopped myself - not because I realize it's silly (although I do) or because I know it is as clean as I can get it (or is it? yes. no. maybe.) but because if I touch that doorknob, six chihuahuas will wake up and voice their displeasure at being restricted to the kitchen. My OCD is being policed by a pack of small dogs. I don't know whether to be thankful or to be embarrassed.  After all, I should be able to control these impulses on my own.  I should be able to tell myself that it can wait until morning. 

Then again, I should be able to go to sleep without having to meticulously clean my fingernails and wash my hands.  I should be able to go to sleep without having to brush off the sheets and shake the pillowcase.  I should be able to get up in the morning without the overwhelming necessity of immediately going to brush my teeth.  So much of my life is in disarray.  My clothes are not organized by color or even by type.  Heck, at the moment my clothes are all mixed up with Peter's on one long rod across the end of our bedroom (see, I told you the closet was too small and poorly laid out)... and although I do match my socks, they are tossed into a drawer without thought to their orientation and my underthings are not neatly folded.  And that doesn't bug me.  (Though I know some people who are probably itching to come organize my dresser right now.) It seems that every flavor of OCD is a little different.  While I might agree with a friend that little paint specks on the arms and hands require immediate scrubbing, I doubt that most of my friends would be immobilized by the sight of spare change on the floor.  If I see a stray coin, I must pick it up.  It's ok if it is on a nightstand or dresser or counter, but if it is on the floor it must be picked up.  I can't stand to have shoes placed on a table - even if they are in a box or bag. I'm convinced that once they are set on a table they will never fit correctly again.  And my house is not clean unless it smells faintly of bleach.  Other people's houses don't have to smell like bleach to be clean... but if mine smells of anything other than bleach (or a specific combination of vanilla, cinnamon and cloves) it is not clean - even if it is spotless.

So, tonight, I will leave the door to the bedroom closed and I will brush off the sheets once more.  I will clean my nails and wash my hands.  I will shake the pillow.  And I will lie down to sleep, content that the whiff of bleach means all is right with the world.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

tired of getting better

It seems my mantra for the past several months has been "I'm getting a little better each day."  Granted, it's a load of horse-poop, but my theory is if I keep saying it, eventually I'll believe it and it will become reality. 

Healing doesn't come by leaps and bounds.  It comes by degrees.  And there are all sorts of setbacks and roadblocks along the way.  For example: the six small incisions (three on each side of my abdomen) have healed.  They are not pretty by any means, but they are a nice dark grey/brown color and were smooth to the touch.  Note the "were" in that last sentence.  About two weeks ago, I noticed bumps on two of the scars.  I figured they were calcified stitches working their way up and they'd erupt, I'd pull them out, and I'd be done with it.  This process usually takes 2-3 days.  It has been nearly two weeks.  Instead of coming on out, the stitches seem to come nearly to the surface - enough to irritate the scar tissue layer into making a scab - then, when the scab comes off (or when I tear it off in frustration) the stitch slips back down inside where I cannot get to it without doing myself serious harm.  This cycle has repeated itself roughly 4 times.  In three separate spots (two on one incision, one on another.)  It is annoying to say the least.  And somewhat frightening when I rake what is left of my nail across it in my sleep and awaken to spots of blood on my fingers and sheets.

Hmm. Noticed that "what is left of my nail" did you?  Yes, my nails continue to do odd things like shed entire layers in the shower and break off whenever a bit of growth manages to happen.  Even Sally Hansen Tough-As-Nails is unable to stop these changes, and it has always worked for me in the past.

I'd be downright depressed about the strange things happening to my body if I weren't so thrilled that I'm not bleeding -at all- anymore.

The hot flashes continue with no discernible pattern to their appearance.  Morning, evening, middle of the night, while active, while sitting, while sleeping, even once in the midst of a shower.  I thought the hot water heater had gone into overdrive.  No, it was just me.  They are not causing an excessive disruption to my lifestyle, so I continue to opt out of hormone replacement.

Occasionally the mood swings hit me hard and fast - but I'll shed some tears or rant and rave and then I'll be fine again.

I'm finally feeling physically well enough to get back into household projects.  This makes my OCD quite happy, because not only do I get to organize the crud out of everything, I also get to make lists.  Oh, lists.  Lists of supplies that we need.  Lists of things to do.  Lists of things to do broken down into daily to-do lists and weekly to-do lists.  Handwritten lists, typed lists, I think the only think I don't have a list of is all of my lists... though that might happen before the end of all of these projects.

Let me explain what we are working on, as it sort of has a cascade effect that is interesting.  First, when I came home from university, ill, we simply stacked the totes containing my school things in the living room.  We had no idea at that point that I would not be returning anytime soon.  Plus, the office area is already overrun with books and files and other totes of "things"... and the 2nd bedroom is overrun with odd bits of furniture and more totes of "things"... oh and lots more books.  Did I mention all the books?  There are many.  Last time I checked, we had nearly 15,000.  These are crammed onto many, many bookshelves with barely any walking space in the "office" room.  And on more bookshelves in the 2nd bedroom.  In fact, that bedroom no longer holds a bed because the space is overrun.  So, there are totes in the office, the 2nd bedroom and now the living room.  Oh and more shelves and books in the living room - along with let's see... a fish tank (sans fish, RIP Salem),  roughly 7 totes full of VHS tapes and DVDs, several cans of paint, my computer desk (an old teacher's desk - it's huge!) a coffee table, a 3' square table, a small altar table and a clothes rack.

So, the ongoing project has been to clear out the living room - but I've been unable to stretch up to the upper shelves nor have I been able to move the heavy totes around, so it's been slow going.  Progress has been made, however. 

Introducing: Mousus interruptus.  An influx of adorable little field mice who, in the course of 2 weeks, managed to destroy all boxed and bagged foodstuff in the pantry along with soiling every pot and pan in the lower cabinets - put the living room project on hold in favor of an emergency kitchen cleaning and mouse round-up.  (The huntress chihuahua, Morgana LeFay, has been taking care of the last few mice for us.)  Thus, the kitchen began to be organized before the living room was quite finished.  But in the process of mouse invasion, the dogs managed to destroy the air conditioner return - which was poorly positioned anyway... and now a lead project is the moving and replacement of the return and the subsequent patching of the 2' hole that will be left after it is moved.  Also on that wall is a glass-doored cabinet... at upper kitchen cabinet height... looking very strange all alone over there. 

So, the project for tomorrow (Sunday) is: Take down the glass front cabinet, install the new air return, remove the old air return and patch the wall, remove the joining strips that are between the wall panels, repair any damage to the wall, wash the wall, tape and mud the joints and corners and prime for painting.

We digressed in planning for a moment here, while debating about a new home for the cabinet.  It is a nice piece, just badly placed.  We tossed around putting it in the master bathroom - and we most likely will do that eventually, but rather than piling -another- room onto our plate at this point, we opted to simply store the cabinet, for now, in the shed.

Then, Monday while Peter is at work, I will paint the wall.  When he returns home, we will install the hangtrack, standards and shelves and move the sparkling clean dishes, pots and pans and secure pantry items to their new mouse-proof home.  This will free up the counter that is now stacked with clean dishes, allowing us to wash the remainder of the dirty dishes and have a clean kitchen once more.

Tuesday and Wednesday I will attack the living room with a vengeance, ending with absolutely everything moved out out out of there, even if it means stacking everything in the last available bit of room in the 2nd bedroom.  Why?

Because on Thursday, I am cleaning the floor, repairing any damage to the floor and walls, and prepping everything for Friday.

And on Friday I will be priming the floor (it is exposed OSB at the moment, and that is a disaster with dogs!) so that...

On Saturday I can paint the walls and floor.

Sunday, we will reset the living room - partially -

And Monday I will take a little break.  I will only be cleaning the guest bathroom and doing a little repair work on one of the walls and some trim painting in there.

But Tuesday we'll be back at it because I'm attacking the Master Bedroom - clearing out the nightstands and around the nightstands and moving them (temporarily) into the living room.

Wednesday the dresser will join the nightstands along with all the remaining clothes in the closet - which will then be cleaned and any damage repaired.

Thursday the rest of the bedroom will be cleared out (into the living room) so that on

Friday I can rip out the carpet (while Peter is at work) - when he gets home he's going to help me pull up the edge staples they used to excess when installing the crappy carpeting... then I will tape and mud the walls and do any other needed repairs.

Saturday the walls and floor of the Master bedroom will be primed

Sunday, we paint

Monday will be another light day - I'm going to finally pull the refrigerator out and clean under and around it.

Tuesday, the deep freezer gets emptied, if possible, and I'll finally thaw those rabbit hides I've been meaning to tan.

Wednesday starts the tanning process, which will be a little labor intensive for the first day.  and I'll be designing a cabinet to go beneath the washer and dryer (which are currently a stacked unit, but soon will be side-by-side on their new, spiffy cabinet-to-be.

Thursday I'll actually move the freezer (which is currently beside the washer/dryer) and build the cabinet.  I'll also slap on a coat of primer for good measure.

Friday it's time to move the washer/dryer out of the space, jump back into taping and mudding and repairing walls and painting the cabinet.  I'm shooting for having the walls in this space primed by the end of the day.

That way I can paint on Saturday, install the cabinet, unstack the washer and dryer and put them in their new home.

Sunday I'll be back in the guest bathroom with my primer.

Monday, the guest bathroom gets a new coat of paint.

And that brings us to August 15th, when my books for school should arrive... so I'll have until the 29th to get a jumpstart on the reading... and we will have one wall of the kitchen, the entryway/foyer/laundry area, living room, master bedroom and guest bathroom all painted and finished.  That will leave us with the cleaning and clearing and painting and finishing of the office room and the 2nd bedroom and the master bathroom.  Those will have to wait until I am out of school.

Oh, the colors?  They are quite spectacular!  The kitchen and attached laundry area will be a lovely Canary Yellow.  The living room gets a tan-side-of-light-adobe color.  In between the kitchen and living room I'll be painting faux columns and an overhead beam in a greyish lavender that will resemble stone once I'm done playing with it.  The guest bathroom (off the living room) will be a spring green.  The master bedroom will be a light purple shade.  We're plotting a blue shade for the 2nd bedroom and a slightly different blue for the master bathroom.  The office will become a cozy library with a burgundy red paint and heavy hunter green drapes. 

As we do not watch television, the living room will end up housing a comfy chair, a bench seat and coffee table along with our two desks and computers.  Floating shelves on one wall will hold whatever remains of our movie collection once we've brutally gone through it.  The bench will be built around three of the dog crates, one more will tuck under a side table and the remaining two will go under the dining table in the kitchen.  Every puppy will have their own space - and there will be plenty of room for running about.

I'm going to experiment with the master bedroom layout - trying a stacked arrangement with the nightstands and dresser to form a headboard for the bed.  With luck that will work out and we'll be able to maximize our storage space.

When we get around to remodeling the master bathroom, I'll be opening a doorway from there into the master closet and closing off the closet doorway into the bedroom.  That will allow us to utilize the space more efficiently.  I'll also be adding a laundry pass through from the master closet into an existing cabinet in the laundry area. 

Eventually, we'll be laying vinyl flooring in the master bedroom and living room, and replacing the vinyl flooring in the bathrooms and kitchen.  With little puppies that tend to have accidents, vinyl is the best option for us.  It won't help resale value - but we don't intend to sell, so that's fine with us.

In my dreams, I see the addition of a backyard deck - as we enter the house through the back (kitchen) door, this would be a nice feature.  I'm sure the puppies would like to sun themselves without having to tickle their tummies on the grass.

Then there's the property perimeter fence to finish - it's only halfway done at the moment.  And clearing the north pasture - which has once again been overgrown by a spontaneous pine forest.  And planting the fruit trees.  And reworking the chicken coop.  And preparing a new garden spot - since my old one is now home to giant bamboo.  And cleaning out the bulb and herb garden.

And then there are the two sheds to be tackled. Once the small (movable) one is cleaned out, it goes to my brother.  The large one needs to be cleaned out, repainted and the door repaired - then shelves need to be installed and everything needs to be organized... and workspace added for Peter's tools and our gardening things.

And we need to tear down the old shed - the first structure we built when we bought this property almost ten years ago. 

It's a never-ending list.  And I love it.  And I know that we will at least stick to it through this week because we've promised ourselves that after the kitchen wall and the living room are done, we get to go out for a nice dinner as a reward!

So, that's one of my lists and some of my current projects.  With luck, I'll be posting later in the week about how everything is going along better than planned.  Hey, it could happen.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

outside, inside

HGTV features several shows centered around creating living space outdoors.  Essentially the hosts take the inside - outside.  I've watched living areas, kitchens and even bedrooms created in modest backyards.

It seems the outside wants revenge.

For some time now we've had a minor influx of grey, furred streaks of doom.  Field mice.  One or two now and then are not a serious problem - more of an inconvenience.  When families of the cheeky little buggers move in, however, it becomes an issue.  We've been working on eliminating their opportunities for entry and clearing out clutter and have gone through several cans of expand-o-foam and steel wool in our battle against the squeaky vermin.  If they didn't poo everywhere and if they didn't stink and if they weren't so destructive, I wouldn't have such a problem with them.

It seems Momma Nature has decided to supply us with a natural form of pest control.  Enter the snake.  The first one was found several months ago in our little-used guest room.  Peter swiftly removed it and I swiftly re-closed the door and tried very hard to forget that the slithery fellow had invaded our space.  A month or so later, a second encounter - this time I found one as it lay curled along the base of the guest bathroom commode.  Again, Peter came to the rescue.  His technique is flawless - he simply snags the offender by the tail and lifts it up.  This is accomplished while I flee to another room, climb atop furniture and shudder violently.  A few weeks later, we decided to organize the guest room... and in the process Peter discovered and relocated another snake.

I'm all for loving nature and appreciating the cycles of life, but I'd much rather do the appreciating -outside- instead of -inside- and after snake 3 slithered away, I was fairly certain we'd seen the last of them.

Today, we divided our efforts.  I attacked a shelving unit in the living room, while Peter remained in our kitchen tackling a set of wire shelves that had recently become a mouse jungle gym, Peter suddenly paused.

Me: "Can you..."
Peter: "My hands are kind of occupied at the moment.  I've got a snake."
Me: "What?"
Peter: "A snake."
Me: "Can I help?" (while thinking - oh please say 'no')
Peter: "Uhm. Yeah."

I slowly approach and realize that this snake is a bit larger than the others we've encountered thus far.  Snakes 1, 2 and 3 were between 12 and 18 inches long.  Snake 4 is closer to two and a half feet.  Peter has this snake by the tail.  The rest of the snake is curled through the side of the wire shelves and is wrapped almost knot-tight.  He pulls. The snake pulls back.  No ground is gained.  What to do?

This shelf unit is roughly 4' wide by 2' deep and 5' high.  It is constructed of heavy gauge wire and a sturdy metal framework.  In short, it is heavy.  And awkward.  And in order to help I am either going to have to grab the snake or move the unit away from the wall.

I moved the unit.

Peter gave the snake a little slack and it mostly uncoiled.  He released the tail, took a rag to keep from being bitten and switched his hold to behind the snake's head.

The snake promptly wrapped its tail around the wires of the side panel and attempted to tie a knot.  Stubborn fellow.

No amount of pulling would free the snake.  At least not without causing it harm.  We want the thing out of the house, we don't want it hurt.

The position Peter is in will not allow him to reach around the side of the unit to free the snake's tail.  That leaves only one solution.  I'm going to have to touch the snake.

In my head I'm screaming "No. No no no no no. Do Not Want!" on endless loop.  Yet, somehow, I walk over and tap the snake on the tail with one finger.  Sort of a "Come on, fella, you don't want me to touch you any more than I want to touch you, so why not just let go?"

The snake held tight.

Another tap.

The snake opened its mouth and made menacing undulations.

Yes, I know they were menacing.  Because I was menaced!

I hooked my finger, gave the tail a tiny pull and quickly jerked my hand away, hoping it would do the trick.

I think the snake just got tired of being messed with... he unwound his tail and let Peter lift him free of the shelves.

It was at this point that I took a closer look at the snake.

Me: "Uhm.  I see pits.  On his head.  Are you -sure- this thing isn't venomous?"
Peter: "Where?"
I point, from a safe distance... of about four feet... vaguely toward the head.
Me: "There.  Behind the eyes.  Maybe we should look it up?"

And thus begins our journey through an interesting "ID that snake" database provided by the Florida Museum of Natural History.

Is the snake striped? No. Go to question #2.

Is the snake blotched? Yes. Go to question #13.

Snout upturned, head and neck flattened and spread when frightened? No. Go to question #15. (Wait a minute - frightened? The snake?  The snake isn't frightened.  The snake is pissed.  And is starting to wrap around Peter's arm and shake its little rattle-less tail.)

On to question 15.

Which doesn't match our snake at all.  For either option.  Well, other than the checkerboard belly bit.  But it isn't orange or reddish, if anything it's grey/brown with blotches... but that option only has a non-checkerboard belly.

It is at this point when we begin to suspect that this ID system is not all-inclusive.

It is also at this point when snake has had more than enough of the silly human antics and is trying much harder to free itself from Peter's grasp and/or bite his hand off.

We decide to do the sensible thing - I stay inside looking at snake pictures while Peter goes outside to release the snake.  Wisely, we do not permit the dogs to follow him out.

He returns in a few moments, unharmed.

The snake was last seen slithering rapidly away... toward the house next door.

Back to identification.

The question-and-answer page tries to tell us that the snake is something that looks nothing like what we have, so I start going through all the snake photographs.  These include non-native species as well as those common to our area.  At this point, I'm interested only in whether or not this thing was lethal.

We narrowed it down to the Southern Florida Mole Kingsnake or the Gray Rat Snake.  Both of these snakes fall nicely into the "mostly harmless" category, so I can breathe a little easier.

Meanwhile, we're clearing out more stuff... getting rid of everything that isn't useful or loved or doesn't bring joy into our lives.  It is a slow process, made more so by my current physical limitations, but we are making progress.  And once the house is no longer mouse-friendly, they -and the snakes- will depart.