Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Herb Garden

I finally got some batteries for my camera and took some pictures of the herb garden my sister and I planted. When Dorothy and Pete were here at Christmas, they found some melamine plates in the old shed. We used those plus some stoneware plates I had to create the border around the garden. Plus, my sister had some bee chotchkas that we put in there. The kittens love it; they chase each other around in in. I'm afraid they are going to destroy the herbs.

Here's another view, more long range. Ignore the dates--I forgot to change the date on the camera.

Oh, and if you want spider lily bulbs, I have a huge box and a tall bag full. I've been digging up the ground in front of the sidewalk out front. I've only gotten half the area dug up; I think I'll end up with more and I have no idea what to do with them! I like spider lilies, but a box and a bag full of them? I'm sure I didn't get all of them, so a few will pop up in the spring. So, if you want some, just leave a comment and we'll work it out.

Monday, May 26, 2008

The Plumbing Debacle Redux

After $250 dollars and several hours of chipping at concrete, I have a working bathroom.

Not only did the plumber put in new fittings, faucets and a shower head, because I demolished the wall, he also fixed the toilet and unstopped my bathroom sink (it was running slow). I don't have to close the bathroom door to keep from hearing the toilet run and the shower drip. I just have to be careful not to drop an earring down the bathroom sink--he took out the "built-in" stopper because it kept getting gunked up.

To recap--I took down the wall behind the shower stall to help with the repair work and to lower my costs. When I took down said wall, I found a mess of concrete and 2x4s. Mr. Lindsey spent a good hour chipping away at cement buildup just to get to the pipe fittings, and, of course, he had to remove the 2x4 right above the fittings. What he charged me seems a pittance, considering what he had to do to fix the leak. Once he finished the shower, he gutted the toilet tank and put in low-flow works--it uses less water to flush and it fills up faster. I don't have to wait 15 minutes for the tank to shut off. And then he took the stopper out of the sink, grabbed the plunger, and, in two seconds, flushed out all the gunk that had built up in the sink pipes.

What a guy! And he also does electrical work, so, when I'm ready to put in a breaker box to replace the fuse box in the garage, I know who I'm going to call.

When I told my sister what he charged me, she asked me if I thought he'd come to Houston and do some work for her. Probably, if she wants to pay for his gas!

As soon as I recharge my AA batteries, I'll take pictures of the (still) open wall so you can see his excellent work, unless I decide to do the drywalling before then. I've spent the last three days working in the yard, but I'll write about that next time.

I don't mind paying for good work, and I certainly don't mind paying when the person I'm paying goes above and beyond. And Mr. Lindsey has never let me down. This is the third time he's done plumbing work for me (not in the same house, not for the same problem), and he works quickly and accurately. He does what he says he will do. So, the next time I need plumbing or electrical work, I'll call him. I have his number on speed dial.

I stopped by Mr. Lester's twice Saturday--once on the way to my mother's, and, again, with my sister on the way back to my house.

The first trip, I bought a huge cabbage for my mom, a head of lettuce, about three pounds of yellow squash, and about three pounds of new potatoes for $9.80. (I split the squash with my mom, too.) On the way back, I bought a round zucchini (round like a small pumpkin!), some fresh corn, and a jar of local honey. I think that's all, and I think I spent about $10 (the honey was $6.95 for a pint).

My mom came out to my house on Sunday and cooked half the cabbage (with some of the potatoes) and the squash. My sister and I had the leftovers and added the corn for dinner. A mostly vegetarian day! And all of it was excellent. I'll be so glad when my garden starts producing--but I did spy a tomato today, so the vegetable garden is progressing!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

The Plumbing Debacle

I was taking a shower last Thursday when I heard a pipe-like clunk, the the water pressure dropped. A long string of swear words flew out of my mouth as hot water scalded my back.

I didn't think much of it. It's not unusual in this town for an errant car to take out a fire hydrant and plunge the water pressure. I didn't hear any running water, so I didn't think much about it until the next night. I went to take a shower, and the water pressure sucked. So, I went to the Internet.

One of the great things about the 'net, besides blogs, is that I can find information about anything. So, I read up on low water pressure and decided I needed to take my shower head apart and reseat the washers, and, for a night, at least, that worked.

The next day, Saturday, I was brushing my teeth when I noticed an odd noise. I couldn't figure out what it was; actually, I thought it was my imagination. Until later in the day, that is, and on Sunday, when the noise escalated into a low hum. Every cold water pipe in my house was vibrating, and the noise sounded similar to a small wind tunnel.

I called a plumber on Monday, left a message, and didn't get a call back. So, I called another plumber on Tuesday, Mr. Lindsey. He worked on the water heater before I moved into the house. His wife is his assistant, and she's a nice person.

Mr. Lindsey came out, turned off the water, and proceeded to take the shower faucets off. Except he couldn't completely take the faucets off because whoever put the faucets in used non-standard washers and fittings. Mr. Lindsey didn't have sockets that fit. He put the faucets back on, turned on the water, and told me he'd come back Wednesday with some other sockets to try.

He came back Wednesday with three new sockets. One worked--on the first washer he had to take off--but not on the second. His opinion? They don't make a socket that size. My question--how the hell did the person who built the shower put the washer on in the first place? He didn't have an answer.

"What are my options?" I asked, innocently. Try to find the right socket (which he was pretty sure didn't exist) or rip out the tile wall on the toilet side of the shower so he could get to the faucets from the back. Or live with the drip in the shower (I was mighty tempted).

"And how much will ripping out the wall cost?" I asked again, innocently. Well, if he had to rip out the tile and the drywall, I would be looking at $250, minimum. I choked. And begged him to try to find a socket that would fit. We scheduled our third plumbing session for Friday.

I was supposed to go to a QM seminar for online teaching today. As I was pulling out of my driveway at 7:30am this morning, a backhoe met me in my driveway. The driver pulled off into my yard. "What's going on?" I asked. "Oh, there's a water leak in the ditch; it's on the city side, so I'm going to fix it."

I hadn't noticed any leaking water, but we've had some rain lately. I found out today that my plumber noticed the leak on Tuesday and called the city to fix it. But he didn't tell me he did that.

So, I cancelled my attendance at the seminar. I'm not about to go off for an entire day while some guy with a backhoe digs up my yard. I could come home and find the water turned off with an ominous note about a leak that might cost $1,000 to fix.

The city guys fixed the leak in 40 minutes. Why can't my shower leak be fixed as quickly?

So, the plumber and I played phone tag today. When we finally spoke, I asked him if he had found the socket. "No," he said. My only option was to rip out the wall.

I did. All by myself. I took off all of the tile on the backside of the shower. I chipped off cement and ripped out the metal mesh. I ripped out the sheet rock. Guess what? A 2' x 4' sits almost right on top of the pipes. I still don't think he'll be able to get to what he needs unless he cuts out the board. And so much cement is gunked up in there that we'll probably have to chip it out to get a clear shot at the pipes. Mr. Lindsey is going to sit on the floor and cry. I almost did. After two hours of chiseling and chipping and ripping, I faced a bloody mess.

But I did it. That will, at least, decrease the labor costs. And I think that Mr. Lindsey didn't think I'd be able to do it. His voice held a trace of skepticism when I told him I would do it. He may still not be happy about what he sees, but at least he didn't have to do it.

One of the best things, though, is that I've increased my tool count. I bought grinding wheels to use with my drill, safety goggles, masks, and a drywall saw. I used the pitchfork I bought the other day to help pry the wire and concrete off the wall (I don't have a crowbar--yet).

But the BEST thing is--I did it ALL BY MYSELF! And I'm going to repair the drywall ALL BY MYSELF, too. The more I can do for myself, the better I feel.

Now to tackle cleaning out the gutters!

P.S. Mr. Lester's produce stand has opened! You should come and check it out--south on Highway 1 from Shreveport; turn left at the blinking light at Armistead. His stand is on the right side of the road before you get to the Red River Bridge.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Raindrops keep falling on my head...

so I'm staying inside, doing inside work.

I edited two files for NAF, and reviewed a transcript I spent 11 hours typing yesterday. Really, if you've never done transcription, word up--a one-hour voice file takes me anywhere from nine to twelve hours to transcribe. Seems slow, maybe, but I edit as I go. Most transcriptionists just type what they hear and ignore punctuation, etc. (That's why I edit transcipts, too. The punctuation usually sucks.) I was up until 2am doing that; I slept until almost 10am this morning, which was nice. The rain kept the sun from shining in the bedroom window--the sun always wakes me.

I was going to tackle the periwinkle bed that surrounds the pecan tree in the back yard, but I guess I'll postpone that until later in the week. I did transplant irises yesterday. I had a bunch around the carport; I dug those up. My mom gave me a bag full, so I dispersed them at various points in the front and back yards. Hopefully, I'll have a riot of color next spring--purple, blue, yellow, white.

Oh, and does anyone want a kitten? I have a feral cat who had five cute kittens--two solid gray, two gray and white, and one gray with a few white accents. I need to trap the mother and have her neutered (anyone have a cat trap?); the babies aren't too scared of me yet--I can pick them up--but the mom will eventually make them run away from me. I need to find homes for them now, so, if you want one, let me know, and you can come catch the one you want.

I restarted my sourdough starter and baked some sourdough biscuits this morning--yummy. And I made a loaf of artisan bread--one of the easiest bread recipes in the world. No kneading, really, but the bread needs a first rising of from 8 to 12 hours. I added wheat flour to this loaf; it's also yummy. I think I'll tackle sourdough bagels tomorrow. I have a simple recipe for those, and I used to make bagels all the time. The price of flour has increased, but it's still cheaper to buy the flour and make my own bread. A loaf of bread costs almost as much as a bag of flour; I can get six or seven loaves of bread from a bag of flour.

Here are two simple bread recipes:

Beer Bread

2 1/2 cups self-rising flour (if using unbleached, add salt, baking powder and soda--you'll have to figure out the measurements for those!)
1-12 oz. can/bottle of beer, cheap or expensive, your choice.

Pour 1/2 of the beer into the flour and stir (no sipping!). When absorbed, pour in the rest of the beer. You can add shredded cheese, garlic, veggies, whatever, to this bread. Scrape into a large bread pan and bake at 375 degrees until done, about 45 minutes.

Artisan Bread

I got this recipe from Mother Earth News.

You need a covered crock to bake this in. I use the insert from my crock pot. Works great. But don't bake this in a metal pan--you'll have to pry it out with a crowbar! And be careful with Pyrex--that may shatter at such high temps.

3 cups unbleached flour, bread flour, wheat flour, or a combination.
1 tsp. salt
1/4 teaspoon yeast (if you buy the packets, you don't need to use the whole thing--just 1/4 tsp.)
1 1/2 cups warm water.

Dissolve the yeast in the water. Add the flour and salt and stir. The dough will be wet and sticky. Cover bowl with plastic wrap or a towel and set to rise in a warm place for 8 to 12 hours.

Dump sticky dough onto floured surface; fold dough on itself 4 or 5 times, flouring as you go. Shape into a round loaf. Dust a towel with cornmeal; place the loaf on the cornmeal towel; dust the top of the loaf with flour. Cover with a towel and let rise for 2 hours.

About 20 minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Place the pot in which you will bake the bread in the oven to preheat it. After 20 minutes, take the pot out of the oven, slide the bread, cornmeal side down, into the pot. Place cover on pot and return to oven. Let the bread bake with the cover on until the top turns just brown (about 30 minutes). Remove the cover from the pot, and bake for another 15 minutes or so, until a probe inserted into the bread comes out clean.

Remove the pan from the oven, remove the bread from the pan, and set to cool on a wire rack. Wait at least an hour before cutting. Really good for thick sandwiches or with a pot of homemade soup or stew.

So, make a loaf of bread! It's another way to destress and to enjoy the fruits of your labor!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

A raging case of poison ivy...

and it's my own fault. I didn't wear long sleeves. So, the calamine lotion stays close to hand.

But I've made some progress on my yard, which is my summer "task." I planted my puny little garden, which is growing slowly (I'll probably pick tomatoes in August at this rate!); but I also cleaned out the area around this odd piece of fencing in my backyard and the corner of the front "flower bed." I cut down an errant holly bush that was growing under the carport, and trimmed the azaleas obscuring the back windows.

I bought a cultivator--it's not quite a tiller--but it works well with my loamy soil and makes weeding a breeze. And I've been able to beef up my compost pile with all kinds of green and brown matter, not to mention banana peels, apple cores, and eggshells. I've mowed the grass twice--the last time, I finished the whole thing in about 1 1/2 hours.

My ultimate goal this summer is to build a chicken coop and get a couple of chickens. Don't know if I will succeed, but I'm going to try.

Mr. Lester's produce stand should be opening soon--if not tomorrow, then the next week. I try to go at least twice--I wait until the last week to buy my peaches. The later peaches are more ripe when they are picked, and I can make peach honey with them. I always buy my mom a cabbage, and I get some locally-produced honey. Mr. L's prices are usually pretty good, but I wonder how the cost of gas will affect him this year.

I haven't been doing much since I posted my grades--answering email, doing some work for the Norton Art Foundation--and I do need to get my summer class up and running. But I've tried to work in the yard everyday. I need the exercise! And it's good for me, too. Besides, the weather has been so pleasant. Who wants to stay inside all day?

So, go outside and dig in the dirt. It's the best therapy for overwork.